China has registered a big jump in daily COVID-19 infections, with new cases more than doubling the number reported on Monday and the highest daily count since the pandemic started over two years ago. The country’s National Health Commission announced 5,280 new cases today and the situation may be going out of control.
China has relied on compulsory testing, strict border controls, and tough lockdowns to keep the virus under control since it emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019. But the fast-spreading Omicron variant is now testing the government’s strategy. Over 10,000 cases were registered in the first two weeks of March, higher than previous outbreaks.
The country’s caseload is still very low compared with most countries around the world, but health experts have said the rate of increase over the next few weeks will be a key factor in establishing whether the Chinese government is able to contain the Omicron variant like previous ones, or if the situation will go out of hand. No new deaths have been reported but cases are up in over a dozen provinces, and experts believe China is underreporting its cases.
Using a COVID-19 forecasting system, Lanzhou University in China's northwest predicted that the wave of infections will be controlled in early April after accumulating 35,000 cases. The university said that despite the severity of the outbreak China will be able to control it by maintaining its rigorous control measures.
Lockdowns and new measures
With over 15 million residents, the city of Shenzhen (a city of over 12 million people) is now under a strict lockdown as the government tries to contain the new outbreak. Every resident will have to go through three rounds of testing, for which they can leave their homes, and all public transportation was suspended. All shops in the city, a tech hub, were ordered to close.
This includes Foxconn, for example, which produces iPhones for Apple. The company announced it was suspending its operations in Shenzhen while keeping operations normal in its larger production site in Zhengzhou. The restrictions will continue at least until 20 March in Shenzhen, adding the city to many others under restrictions in China.
The more than 14 million people who live in the province of Jilin, largely affected by the new outbreak, were also ordered not to leave the province or travel between its cities. In Changchun, the provincial capital, residents have been under lockdown since Friday. Over 1,000 medical workers were flown in from other provinces to help.
Dongguan city in the southern province of Guangdong asked all employees to work from home and locked down residential areas, allowing only necessary activities such as taking virus tests and buying food. However, in industrial parks that haven’t reported cases, companies can maintain production under strict virus control measures.
With its borders mostly closed, China is among a few governments around the world that are still committed to a zero-tolerance approach to the COVID-19. Despite the new outbreak, National People's Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui dismissed any change in its current pandemic policies, saying the path followed so far has shown good results.
China has administered over three billion doses of vaccines, with 85% of the population fully vaccinated and a large fraction already having received the third dose. However, a highly vaccinated population isn’t necessarily a barrier against the Omicron variant, which has shown to have increased transmissibility. For now, it’s all strict controls in China.