BEIJING – Neighborhoods under strict locking. Thousands in quarantine. Millions tested in days. Overseas arrivals locked in for weeks and sometimes months.
China has been following variations of this formula for dealing with coronavirus for more than a year – and a new outbreak suggests they could be a part of Chinese life for some time to come.
China seemed to get coronavirus under control almost a year ago. But hundreds of millions of Chinese remain unvaccinated. New varieties of coronavirus have emerged and there are still questions about whether China̵
The latest cases have been found in Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong province. Authorities have blamed the Delta variant, which has caused a huge loss of human life in India.
The city tested almost its entire population of 18.7 million between Sunday and Tuesday, some of them for the second time. It has also put neighborhoods with a total of more than 180,000 residents in total lockdowns, where virtually no one is allowed except medical tests.
The early infections appear to have jumped from person to person in a cluster of eateries. Each infected person has infected more people than in any previous outbreak that China has faced, Zhang Zhoubin, deputy director of the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control, said at a news conference.
“The epidemic facing Guangzhou this time around is an unprecedented adversary, and it requires more decisive and decisive action to deal with it,” he said.
Test facilities in Guangzhou have been operating around the clock. The lines are long. Residents wake up early to try to beat the rush, but still find delays.
Mandy Li, a longtime resident of the city’s Liwan district where most infections have taken place, said she set her alarm clock for 6 p.m. 3.30. She still had to wait an hour.
“In the queue there was a family of three,” she said. “Some woke up their children to stand up, and others had prams. But everyone was cooperative and quiet, as we know, some volunteers and medical workers worked very hard and they have been there all this time without rest. ”
China’s approach has evolved since the coronavirus first emerged, when Beijing initially imposed severe restrictions on hundreds of millions of people. Today, its lockdowns are focused on neighborhoods rather than cities or provinces. China has made vaccination central to its strategy.
Yet many of the core principles of a large and densely populated country remain: enormous tests, strict limits on movement, and intense control of arrivals from other countries.
Foreign companies have worried that these boundaries for international travelers could cheat their plans. A survey by the European Union Chamber of Commerce, published this week, found that three-quarters of member companies said they had been negatively impacted by travel restrictions, usually by preventing them from bringing in key engineers or managers.
Beijing has demanded that travelers from dozens of countries spend two weeks in quarantine under the supervision of the employer, even before flying to China. Once there, travelers must spend at least two weeks and sometimes three or longer in quarantine under the supervision of the government, even if they are fully vaccinated. Test rounds may turn out to be false positive, leading to more tests and additional days or weeks in isolation.
A German national who flew to Shanghai last month said he had been sent to a hospital isolation room for three days because he tested positive for antibodies, which he attributed to taking another vaccine dose 16 days earlier.
Nurses took his blood twice a day and performed six sponge sticks, four nose sticks and two anal swabs daily, said the German, who insisted on anonymity to avoid violating the authorities. The hospital room had no towels, no toilet paper and no TV, and the bed was a steel plate with a thin mat, he said.
The German said that after consistently testing negative for the virus, he was allowed to spend the remaining 11 days in isolation in a government-monitored quarantine center.
Many companies expect China to maintain strict travel restrictions through February, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics and possibly through the fall of next year, when the Chinese Communist Party holds its party congress.
Many foreigners in China face a choice: If they travel to visit spouses, children, and other family members elsewhere, they may not be able to re-enter the country later due to pandemic restrictions.
“There is definitely a growing fatigue for many foreigners who are here,” said Jacob Gunter, senior policy and communications director at the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.
At home, China’s leaders are pushing their people to be vaccinated. It has managed approx. 800 million doses after the government count compared to 300 million administered in the United States. Yin Weidong, chairman and CEO of Sinovac Biotech, one of China’s largest vaccine manufacturers, told state television last Friday that Chinese regulators had approved emergency use of vaccines for children as young as 3 years old.
Administering 800 million doses – almost all vaccines require two shots – still means that most of China’s 1.4 billion people have not been fully vaccinated. Some people are still hesitant to get the shots, and Chinese media have used the Guangzhou outbreak to encourage skeptics to be vaccinated.
The spread of the virus has raised new questions about the effectiveness of China’s vaccines, especially against variants. The Seychelles last month and now Mongolia for the last three weeks have both had a large number of infections despite high vaccination rates. Both have used the Sinopharm vaccine from China, although the Seychelles also relied in part on AstraZeneca vaccines.
The Delta variant, now circulating in Guangzhou, has also shown the ability in other countries to infect some people who had already been vaccinated, a phenomenon known as vaccine escape. Research elsewhere has shown that it was a particular problem for people who received only a first injection of a two-jab vaccine and then were exposed to the Delta variant.
Researchers in the UK have found that only the first of two shots of Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines can only be 30 percent effective in preventing infection with the Delta variant, said Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosafety program at Kirby. Institute. from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
After two doses, efficacy appears to increase to 60 percent with the AstraZeneca vaccine and 88 percent with Pfizer-BioNTech. “With the degree of vaccine release that comes with the Delta variant, you really need people to be fully vaccinated,” she said.
Mr. Yin from Sinovac told China’s state-run television on Saturday that a third shot of his company’s vaccine produces a tenfold increase in the number of antibodies within a week. But Chinese vaccine manufacturers do not yet recommend a third dose.
“As far as China is concerned, in fact, the most important task for the entire public is to complete the two-shot immunization,” he said.
Meanwhile, Guangzhou has been trying to turn its virus sink into a showcase for local technologies. Officials there said they had used 31 driverless shuttle vans and trucks to send food and other important supplies to locked neighborhoods to avoid exposing delivery staff.
On Tuesday, Guangdong province had 157 people hospitalized with the virus and reported about 10 new cases a day. The province and also Guangzhou itself has banned anyone from leaving since last weekend unless they have a valid cause and a negative nucleic acid test for the virus within the previous 48 hours.
Unlike many places around the world, Guangzhou at least does not have to worry about running out of pandemic supplies: it happens to be a hub for their manufacture and export. Chen Jianhua, chief economist at Guangzhou Bureau of Industry and Information Technology, said at a news conference on Wednesday that the city’s daily production capacity was 91 million meshes and seven million sets of coronavirus detection chemicals.
Albee Zhang contributed research.