Since March, China has been battling its biggest wave of Covid, and Shanghai is now the biggest access point. All 25 million residents are behind closed doors, and national health workers and the Chinese military are aiming to intensify the city’s response.
More than 20,000 new cases were recorded in the country on Tuesday, well beyond the peak of Wuhan in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic.
Although this figure is still much lower than in many other countries, it is a sharp surge for China, which adheres to a strict Zero Covid strategy, which aims to eliminate all outbreaks and transmission chains through border control, mass testing, quarantine and tight locks.
The sustainability of this policy is now in question as new, highly infectious Covid variants continue to spread among the population.
Here’s what you need to know about the latest outbreak.
What parts of China have been affected?
In early March, the number of cases began to rise in several provinces of the country, including Shandong in the east, Guangdong in the south and Jilin in the northeast.
By the end of the month, the virus had spread to 29 of China’s 31 provinces, according to the National Health Commission (NHC). 90% of all cases detected in March came from Jilin and Shanghai, the two largest hotspots.
Several cities, home to more than 37 million people, found themselves under varying levels of blockade in March. Many of those blockades were eased by early April, leaving Shanghai outstanding as authorities struggled to take control of their affairs.
So far only two deaths from Covid have been officially recorded during this wave, both arrived from Jilin in March.
What does life look like under lock and key?
Shanghai’s measures have been expanded and extended as the situation worsens.
In late March, the Shanghai government denied that it had plans to close the city – even saying the reports were “false” and violated “social order.” On March 27, the government announced that it was beginning a gradual closure, targeting first one half of the city and then the other half.
By March 31, the government had abandoned its gradual approach, effectively introducing citywide closures for all 25 million residents who were barred from leaving their neighborhoods except to be surveyed.
Mandatory citywide testing revealed a surge in cases, officials said, prompting them to extend the blockade until further notice while they “spend more, review results, transfer positive cases and analyze the overall situation with Covid.”
To enforce these measures and meet the demands of the entire banned population, more than 30,000 medics and 2,000 servicemen were sent to the city, state media and the People’s Liberation Army reported.
But the restrictions also caused a rare outburst of public frustration and criticism of the government, and residents described problems with access to basic goods such as food or medicine.
“We are not killed by Covid, but by Covid control measures,” said one popular comment on China’s censored social media platform Weibo.
On Monday, a quarantine center in Shanghai launched a quarantine zone for parents and children. And on Wednesday, Shanghai health authorities announced they would amend the policy by allowing parents with a negative test to apply for permission to accompany children with a positive Covid with “special needs.” They did not specify what conditions would qualify as “special needs”.
Parents with a positive test can also accompany their children with Covid to quarantine facilities.
Which option is distributed?
Omicron stimulates this surge, and the cases found show both BA.1 – the original Omicron – and other descendants, including BA.1.1 and BA.2.
Since its rise, the number of international cases – which has been declining since the first week of January – has been rising again.
Studies also show that BA.2 is much more contagious – although researchers are still studying the severity of this option. Some epidemiologists say its baseline reproductive rate can reach 12, meaning that each sick person infects an average of 12 others.
This would put him in one row of measles, which also spreads through the air. The basic reproduction figure for BA.1 is estimated at about 8.
Will China stick to Zero Covid?
As the outbreak dragged on, experts and international observers have speculated whether this wave, a more transmissible option, and a mass vaccination campaign in China could lead to the end of Zero Covid.
According to the NHC, as of Friday, about 78% of the country’s 1.4 billion population had been fully vaccinated.
Before the outbreak, scientists and leaders hinted that they were reconsidering the strategy, and one well-known epidemiologist wrote on Weibo in early March that Zero Covid “will not remain unchanged forever.”
But now it looks like a distant future, when the Chinese authorities have made it clear that they consider the alternative – a virus that is spreading across the country, potentially overflowing the health care system – the worst option.
Chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention Wu Zunyov said on Friday that China “will continue to focus on a dynamic zero-covid policy,” according to the state-run tabloid Global Times. Easing restrictions and opening borders in other countries can cause many problems, such as (pressure) medical resources and rising mortality, ”he added.
And on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan said in Shanghai that the city needed “more decisive relations, more powerful action and more effective coordination” to reach Zero Covid.