Two COVID Deaths in China for the First Time in a Year: Why Are Cases Surging?
Cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen have returned to partial lockdowns, with millions confined at homes.
As China is witnessing the largest number of cases in more than two years after the initial outbreak of COVID-19 was detected, two people were reported to have died on Saturday, 19 March, for the first time in over a year.
The deaths amid the surge in cases underline the threat posed by an Omicron outbreak that has triggered the country's highest case counts since the pandemic's outset.
At a time when countries across the world are easing restrictions imposed due to coronavirus, China is back to locking down its cities.
As cases surge in China, which regions are seeing outbreaks? What is the reason behind them? What is their strategy to contain the cases?
Here's all we need to know.
Which regions in China are witnessing a surge?
According to media reports, the latest surge is driven by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, with very few pockets reporting the Delta vairant.
The country's financial hub Shanghai has been reporting a surge in cases over the last one month.
Jilin, the northeastern province of China, is one of the hardest-hit regions. Nine million residents in the province's capital, have been ordered against leaving their residential compounds for non-essential reasons. All residents of Jilin have completed six sounds of mass testing, reported news agency AFP.
Yanji, which shares a border with North Korea, is also witnessing a outbreak.
The city of Shenzhen, which is located in the southern part of the country, and borders Hong Kong, is also one of the worst hit.
What are the main restrictions imposed?
Cinemas, theatres and museums have been shut in Shanghai.
The city has also shutdown schools and shifted to online learning.
Shanghai Disneyland resort has restricted entry with visitors requiring a COVID negative certificate issued within 24 hours.
The Canton Fair, China's oldest and biggest trade fair has been shut down, Guangzhou officials said.
In Shenzhen city, in which 13 million people reside, the administration has ordered citizens to not leave the city unless needed.
Public transport including buses and subways will be suspended starting 14 March.
Dining in restaurants, closed indoor entertainment have been halted in all nine districts.
Companies have been asked to shift to remote vworking, with exceptions only for essential sectors.
What is happening in Hong Kong? Why is that important?
Hong Kong has reported more than 7,00,000 fresh infections and 4,000 deaths overall – most of which took place in the last three weeks. All of the country's 7.4 million residents are subjected to compulsory mass testing, reported Reuters.
The Chinese-ruled region had sealed its borders from the rest of the world, with very few flights being allowed (mostly from China).
The region has also recorded the most deaths per million people globally last week, as per Our World in Data. While some social media handles in China, blamed Hong Kong for their spike in COVID cases, there has been no official statement released with this regard.
How is China implementing the 'Zero-COVID' strategy?
The 'Zero-COVID Strategy' is implemented with strict measures including:
The 'Dynamic-Zero' strategy includes tight lockdowns followed by mass testing.
All the areas that are witnessing a spike has gone through several rounds of mass testing. Each and every case COVID-19 virus is isolated in the country, as a part of the 'Zero COVID' strategy.
But experts say that this strategy may be harming China than helping.
What are experts saying?
Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, epidemiologist and chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology, told FIT:
"They have a blessing in the form of Omicron, because Omicron has a VERY low severity. It's extremely immunogenic and spreads faster than the other variants. There's nothing you can do to stop it. It's extremely liberating in some sense, because this will reduce repression in the country, and let people breathe a little easier."
"Omicron is like floodwater flowing into low-lying lands. The increased infections is because of low levels of prior infections," virologist Dr T Jacob John also told FIT. "Previous efforts at vaccination did nothing to stem the flow of Omicron," he added.
Should India worry?
No, and no, say both Dr Muliyil and Dr Jacob. The two major factors that reduce the severity of infection are previous infection and previous immunization.
A low-severity, highly contagious nature like that of Omicron speeds up the process of endemic by spreading faster.
"We have it stark in our face and we don't want to believe it. I think the epidemic is over. China will have an epidemic, they need an epidemic, they will be relieved after an epidemic. They should permit the epidemic and they need to let the epidemic run its course instead of having a zero-COVID policy. And then the world will become a safe place again," Muliyil explained.
(With inputs from FIT, Reuters)
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