Thousands of new COVID-19 cases have been reported around China after the country adhered to a zero-COVID policy throughout the pandemic, driving the worst outbreak in the country since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020.
Despite efforts to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic through mass testing, border controls, quarantine, and lockdowns. Approximately 3,507 domestically transmitted cases have been reported around the country since Monday. The cases have emerged across 58 cities in 19 of the 21 Chinese provinces. This has been the highest reported number since the outbreak in Wuhan, more than two years ago.
To contain the spread and treat infected people, China’s regulator of medical products approved Pfizer’s Paxlovid for emergency use. In addition, those who test positive for COVID-19 and only exhibit mild symptoms need only be maintained in centralized isolation facilities.
Major Chinese cities, such as the north-eastern industrial hub of Changchun and the southern economic hub of Shenzhen, have been put under lockdown with strict control of residents leaving their homes.
Shenzhen, which is home to 13 million people, is planning to conduct three rounds of mass PCR testing on its citizens. Residents have been advised to avoid unnecessary travel, and those traveling must present a negative PCR test result issued within 24 hours of their departure. Last Friday, Changchun put its 9 million residents into lockdown, preventing them from leaving their homes, with only one person per household being allowed to go grocery shopping every two days.
Although China’s case numbers are small compared to global standards, health experts believe the growth rate of daily cases in the next few weeks will be crucial in determining whether the country’s zero-COVID approach has been effective in preventing the spread of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Almost 90% of the new confirmed cases reported around China were found in the province of Jilin. This led to officials banning residents from traveling in and out of the affected areas without authorization. A local newspaper in Jilin stated the need for officials to immediately prepare temporary and designated hospitals as well as use idle venues to ensure the isolation of infected people and their close contacts.
Ultimately, the current rapid growth of COVID-19 cases furthers the debate about whether strict zero-COVID measures are truly effective. While the question of whether China will succeed in decelerating the current spread is one to be solved as events continue to unfold.