China reported more Covid-19 infections in its current epicenter, putting pressure on authorities to tame the outbreak before it spills over into some of the country’s most economically important areas.
The eastern province of Anhui reported 231 Covid cases for Monday, with the tally since late June topping 1,000 infections. Authorities locked down Si county and one neighboring county late last week to carry out mass testing and to try and stop the virus from spreading, and pledged on Monday to stop community spread in the next three days.
The country is the last major economy wedded to a zero-COVID strategy, responding to all cases with strict isolation orders and tough testing campaigns.
The outbreak in Anhui — where officials first found hundreds of cases last week — comes as the Chinese economy begins to rebound from a months-long lockdown in Shanghai and disruptive COVID restrictions in the capital Beijing.
Two counties in the province — Sixian and Lingbi — announced lockdowns last week, with more than 1.7 million residents only permitted to leave their homes if they are getting tested.
Footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed empty streets in Sixian over the weekend and people lining up for their sixth round of mass testing in recent days.
The province reported 287 new infections on Monday, including 258 people who had no symptoms, according to China’s National Health Commission, bringing the total cases found to just over 1,000.
Provincial governor Wang Qingxian urged local authorities to “seize every minute and earnestly implement quick screening” as well as rapid quarantine and reporting of cases, in a statement published by the Anhui government on Monday.
Neighboring Jiangsu province also reported 56 new local infections across four cities on Monday.
Photos shared widely online, verified by AFP Fact Check, showed hundreds of people in hazmat suits lining up in the city of Wuxi in Jiangsu, appearing to be waiting for buses to quarantine facilities.
Some of the shots showed babies in blue protective clothing carried by people with suitcases waiting outside a hospital in sweltering heat.
Temperatures in Wuxi have recently reached up to 36° C (97° F).
While cases remain low relative to China’s vast population, officials insist the zero-COVID policy is necessary to prevent a healthcare calamity, pointing to unevenly distributed medical resources and low vaccination rates among the elderly.
But the strategy has hammered the world’s second-largest economy and heavy-handed enforcement has triggered rare protests in the tightly controlled country.
China’s international isolation has also prompted some foreign businesses and families with the financial means to make exit plans.
National authorities announced a reduced quarantine requirement for international arrivals last month, rallying most Asian markets as investors hoped the move could provide a boost for Beijing’s COVID-slumped economy.
But health official Lei Zhenglong has insisted the new quarantine policy was “absolutely not a loosening of (COVID) prevention and control.”
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences at Beijing said that they have detected a new SARS-CoV-2 BA.2 subvariant that is spotting multiple mutations.
According to their genomic sequencing data, the new BA.2 subvariant spots the following new mutations- S:L452R, S:R493Q (reversion), S:E340K, S:K356T, S:H49Y, S: D936H, S:69/70del, ORF1a:T3356I, ORF1b:A1895T, ORF3a:A39T,ORF3a:G100V, E:L21F, M:S4F
Jiangsu province, the second-biggest contributor to China’s economic output and a globally significant manufacturing hub for the solar sector, reported 66 local cases for Monday. That includes 34 in the biotech hub of Wuxi city, which has already suspended dine-in services at restaurants and closed entertainment venues. Shanghai, which neighbors Jiangsu, reported eight local cases Monday, with one infection found outside government quarantine.
The growing clusters around the region come swiftly after earlier outbreaks in mega cities Shanghai and Beijing were brought under control and have raised concerns about whether authorities will deploy lockdowns to tame the flareup. President Xi Jinping last week reaffirmed the country would stick to Covid Zero and said China would rather endure some temporary impact on economic development than let the virus hurt people’s safety and health.
Elsewhere, Xi’an city, the provincial capital of the northwestern Shaanxi province, said it will start a week-long citywide Covid control from Wednesday. Entertainment venues including bars, cinemas, and gyms will be closed for seven days, while dine-in services at all restaurants will be halted. Universities in the city will be under closed management while other schools will start their summer vacation early.
The restrictions came after the provincial disease control center said it detected the BA.5 omicron sub-variant in its recent outbreak, state media China National Radio reported earlier Tuesday. The BA.5 sub-variant is more infectious than the BA.2 variant found in earlier outbreaks, the report said.