Corona crisis: Omikron has now arrived in China – and challenges the zero Covid strategy
Peking For a long time it worked like a miracle: while Omikron spread at breathtaking speed in the rest of the world, China, with its 1.4 billion inhabitants, did not report a single case. That has now changed. In Beijing’s neighboring city of Tianjin, apparently locally developed and transmitted Omicron cases were registered for the first time at the weekend.
The two new Omikron cases represent a new situation in that, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the two infected people had not left the city for at least 14 days – so far, Omikron cases in China were looking for newcomers declined abroad.
Zhang Ying, deputy director of the CDC in Tianjin, said at a press conference that one case was a child who went to school in Tianjin and the other was an adult who had only been around for the past 14 days stayed within the city.
A total of 40 cases have now been discovered in Tianjin, only two of which were officially infected with Omikron. The authorities ordered mass tests in the 14 million city, residents were instructed to leave the city only in exceptional cases. There is usually a lively shuttle traffic between Tianjin and Beijing, with the express train taking only 30 minutes between the two metropolises.
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The highly contagious virus mutation Omikron challenges the strict zero-case strategy less than four weeks before the start of the Olympic Games in the capital Beijing. The Chinese government has been following this strategy in the fight against Covid for almost two years.
In the past few months, China had largely succeeded in avoiding local outbreaks or quickly bringing them under control through sometimes draconian measures such as strict curfews, but also mass tests. While the number of cases skyrocketed in other countries, there were isolated outbreaks in China. There were rarely more than 100 new infections per day nationwide.
The central government in Beijing usually only roughly specifies how the zero-case strategy should be adhered to, the local governments then impose individual measures. Travel within China is not prohibited, but the government repeatedly advises against it. Different health certificates are required depending on the city and province.
The government of the central Chinese city of Xi’an recently took the most violent measures to date in months. The residents of the city of 13 million people have not been allowed to leave their apartments since December 23 and are supplied with food from outside by so-called neighborhood committees. The number of cases has been falling since the draconian lockdown. However, there had been numerous complaints on the Internet in recent weeks about insufficient food supplies in the city.
Chaotic conditions in the cities of China
Hamster purchases took place in Tianjin at the weekend – people fear curfews such as those in central China’s Xi’an. As in Wuhan, chaotic conditions emerged in Xi’an when a city of this size was cordoned off.
A video posted on the Internet last week showed a heavily bleeding, heavily pregnant woman in front of a hospital in Xi’an. Employees had made the eight-month pregnant woman wait outside for hours in the cold despite serious complaints because she could not show a valid Covid test. She suffered a miscarriage.
Fear of being held responsible for outbreaks, local authorities repeatedly resort to such brutal methods. After a wave of outrage, the central government explicitly directed the country’s hospitals to admit all patients. Medical institutions “must not turn away patients on any pretext” and should admit people with serious illnesses immediately, regardless of whether they test negative, said Vice Prime Minister Sun Chunlan at a meeting with officials in Xi’an.
A particularly big challenge for the government in Beijing is the Olympic Games starting on February 4th, which are to take place under strict preventive measures. The thousands of athletes arriving for the sporting event, their fellow travelers and journalists have to enter a closed bubble around the sports facilities on arrival in China, which they are not allowed to leave until they leave.
At the beginning of January, thousands of workers had to move into the facilities that are supposed to ensure the smooth running of the games, such as cleaning staff and cooks. They too are not allowed to leave the bubble until the games are over, and nobody is allowed to enter the bubble. Special means of transport, also sealed off from the rest of China’s residents, bring the athletes to the sports facilities.
Beijing’s fear of the virus goes so far that the residents of China’s capital have been ordered by the local traffic authority not to help in the event of an accident involving one of the vehicles used to transport the athletes. The public should make sure “not to come into contact with the vehicle and the staff in the vehicle and wait for professional staff”, it said in a message on the weekend.
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