Covid-19’s Delta Variant Breaches Chinese Firewall

China is facing its biggest Covid outbreak since the disease first emerged there in late 2019, with the Delta variant now spreading far and wide.

Asia Times said that China’s seemingly impregnable COVID-19 firewall is springing leaks, with the country logging more local cases in 20 days than in the previous five months combined.
China in May shored up its border to fence all provinces and cities to keep out the novel coronavirus after the nation largely banished the pandemic after it first emerged in the city of Wuhan, says Frank Chen writing in the Asia Times.

The measures were hastily put in place before the summer of 2020 and now China’s firewall has become nearly impregnable and is being strengthened as the West edges towards loosening its entry requirements as caseloads fall amid vaccination campaigns.

Meanwhile, the different approaches of China and the West are plain to see as Chinese ministries responsible for health and border protection have scrambled to send updated directives to border cities, airports and checkpoints that aim to beef up the country’s defenses against so-called “backflows”, wrote Chen.

At least 15 of the nation’s 31 provinces have confirmed Delta strain infections over the past two weeks, marking China’s biggest outbreak since 2020. The disease’s spread is believed to have started from a foreign flight at Nanjing’s airport in early July.

The National Health Commission (NHC) said 328 cases have been reported since last month, including in the central city of Wuhan, the origin epicenter of the global pandemic. Authorities reported 99 new cases on Monday, according to reports.

Millions are now in lockdown as authorities lock down cities and restrict travel to arrest the contagion’s further spread. The outbreak has been sparked in part by a recent easing of mask-wearing and social distancing, a laxity caused by the fact the country was Covid-free for many months, reported Asia Times.

China’s strict Covid containment measures, including mass testing as soon as a case appears, pervasive contact tracing, widespread use of quarantines and targeted lockdowns, have subdued more than 30 previous flareups over the past year.

While the infection figure is still modest by international standards, the NHC does not count asymptomatic carriers in its case tally and official figures are known to be conservative given the widespread tendency for underreporting, says Frank Chen.

The NHC added 55 local cases on Sunday but there were also 44 patients with no outward symptoms and thus were not categorized as confirmed infections. The highly contagious Delta variant is known for spreading among mostly asymptomatic people.

State media have trumpeted China’s zero-case approach to Covid control but shutting out the Delta strain is proving a taller order. The disease’s spread is also raising questions about the efficacy of locally made vaccines against delta, in particular, reports Chen.

Nanjing, the capital of the eastern Jiangsu province, is believed to be ground zero of the nationwide flare-up. The city’s airport workers, most of whom were fully vaccinated, reportedly first contracted the Delta strain from arrivals from Moscow on July 10, before passing it to transit passengers who spread it to their destinations across China.

At least 52 communities and residential quarters in Nanjing and its neighboring cities like Yangzhou have been red-flagged by the NHC as high or medium-risk areas to be locked down. Anyone leaving these areas will face 14-21 days of compulsory quarantine and criminal charges. Three rounds of city-wide testing in Nanjing yielded 204 cases as of August 1.

Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan province, now faces a double whammy of flooding and Covid-19. Large tracts of the city were swamped by disastrous rainstorms two weeks ago with fatalities still being reported.

Moreover, Wuhan, capital of Hubei and Covid’s initial epicenter, is now reinstating some anti-epidemic measures and is on the lookout for close contacts after news broke on Monday afternoon that seven migrant workers there tested positive, reported Asia Times. (ANI)

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