Just as China contained coronavirus outbreaks in bigger cities like Shanghai and Beijing, cases in a small county that have now spilled to other cities are once again challenging the country’s “zero-COVID” strategy.
On Sunday, the eastern Anhui province reported 29 locally transmitted symptomatic and 258 asymptomatic cases — China doesn’t include the latter in its COVID-19 tally — with the majority of them in Sixian County, according to the provincial health commission. The county has recorded some 800 cases, most of them asymptomatic, since the first infection was diagnosed on June 26.
Sixian County, home to 962,000 people, has shut highways and all indoor venues, including schools, restaurants, and supermarkets. A complete lockdown was imposed on June 29, with all residents requested to stay at home.
Despite strict control measures, at least six cities in Anhui and the neighboring Jiangsu province, including Nanjing, have reported coronavirus cases directly related to the outbreak in Sixian County, according to media reports.
Wuxi, a manufacturing hub nearly 400 kilometers away from Sixian County, has logged three confirmed local cases and 138 asymptomatic cases since June 29. Local authorities have ordered all restaurants to stop indoor dining, and shortened opening hours for banks and shopping malls, while residents leaving the city require proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within the past 48 hours.
The outbreak in Anhui comes just about a month after neighboring Shanghai lifted its lockdown after curbing its worst COVID outbreak and when central authorities seem to be adjusting policies to minimize the economic impact.
Last week, China halved the quarantine time for inbound passengers to seven days, along with three days of at-home health monitoring. Central authorities also removed a feature that identifies trips to at-risk areas from an app that shows an individual’s travel history, triggering a surge in online searches for hotels and flights.
Many cities have also relaxed policies on COVID testing, extending the validity of test results to enter public venues. Days before Sixian County logged the first case, at least four big cities in Anhui had suspended such “normalized” tests required every two to three days.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Residents line up for COVID-19 test in Sixian County, July 3, 2022 Huang Bohan/Xinhua)