China’s recent daily reported COVID-19 cases are closer to figures only seen in 2020 just after the pandemic emerged in Wuhan. Is the 'Zero COVID' policy on the wane?
China reported more than 3,100 new COVID-19 cases on March 13, according to the National Health Commission. This is the highest number of COVID-19 cases that the country has seen in two years. As a result of the rising number of infections, the health authorities have imposed sweeping restrictions across cities like Shenzhen City, Jilin City, Yanjim, Changchun and more.
What we know so far
Most of the cases are asymptomatic in nature and are locally transmitted, spreading fears of a possible new wave of COVID-19. Due to the asymptomatic and milder nature of the infections, it is thought that Omicron -- and not the Delta variant – is behind this outbreak.
While China has vaccinated just over 87 percent of its adult population, Omicron’s breakthrough infections still remain a cause of concern for the country.
Change from ‘Zero COVID-19’
Since the start of the pandemic, China has employed a ‘Zero COVID-19’ policy, where it tries to completely eliminate local transmissions through strict quarantines, lockdowns and movement restrictions. The country has still not opened up its airspace fully to international travel, and local restrictions continue in major cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
But as cases continue to soar, the administration has now slowly started to shift gears. The Chinese government recently made rapid antigen tests available to the public for the first time since the pandemic started.
Nanjing Vazyme Biotech, Beijing Jinwofu Bioengineering Technology, BGI PathoGenesis Pharmaceutical Technology, Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Beijing Savant Biotechnology are the five companies whose testing kits have been approved.
Lockdowns and restrictions
While Shanghai, a model of the ‘Zero COVID-19’ policy in the past, has only introduced measures to isolate and quarantine high-risk residents who have come in contact with COVID-19 positive individuals, other cities have made more sweeping orders.
Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin have imposed lockdowns on several neighbourhoods where cases have been detected. Shenzhen city has also been placed under a selective lockdown. Guangzhou has arranged mass testing and suspended “all exhibitions” after one patient was found to have visited an expo. Jilin City, Yanjim, and Changchun were also placed under selective lockdowns in response to the growing number of cases.
In Hong Kong, where daily cases have come down to 32,430 per day, authorities have cautioned the public against assuming that the Omicron-driven wave has ended.