A single case of Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) infection forced a primary school in Beijing to quarantine some of its students, magnifying China’s response to halt transmission of the highly infectious delta variant.
The school principal told the parents gathered outside the school late Monday, November 1, to bring quilts and pillows to join their kids through the two weeks of isolation. The lockdown was triggered after a teacher was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The response was unprecedented in a world hit by the pandemic. Beijing is in the midst of its biggest outbreak since the beginning of the year with 39 symptomatic cases as the virus pops up across more than half of the country.
An infected child of a teacher also forced students at a nearby junior high school to quarantine. Staff members also closed 16 schools in Beijing’s Chaoyang district because staff members could have been exposed to the pathogen when they got booster shots at the same vaccination site as the infected teacher, just days before she was diagnosed. Altogether, more than 400 people were told to quarantine.
China is fighting tooth and nail against a resurgence of the delta variant, which has spread across the country in just two weeks.
While COVID incursions are becoming more frequent and causing widespread infections, China is hardening its approach to eradicate the virus from, defying a global trend that has seen so-called COVID Zero countries pivot to learning to live alongside the disease. (Related: China seizes factory lines, spurs speculation and fears about second COVID-19 wave.)
Earlier, China’s Ministry of Commerce urged residents to stock up on necessities. According to a commentary in the state-backed Economic Daily, the move will help them deal with lockdowns and improve readiness for other emergencies.
Countries like Singapore and Australia balked at the economic and societal cost of closing off vaccinated people indefinitely to snuff out transmission of often mild cases, but China still sees a positive cost-benefit ratio.
The stringent steps being taken to quash the virus are less costly than the price the world’s most populous country would pay if it opened up its borders and sparked a surge, one of the country’s top COVID advisers said.
Pulmonologist: Chinese government has no choice but to quarantine people
Prominent pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan, who headed a COVID Task Force after the virus first emerged in 2019, said that the government has no option but to quarantine people because the virus spreads too fast and replicates exponentially.
“Zero tolerance or zero transmission, we have no option but to do this. It is indeed costly to adopt the strategy of zero transmission but leaving COVID uncontrolled and opening up will be even more so,” he told state broadcaster CCTV on Monday, November 1.
The arrival of delta earlier this year forced many countries in the Asia-Pacific region to abandon the zero-tolerance policies as the suite of measures that once kept them virus-free failed to work as effectively on the evolving disease. Singapore and Australia are now relying predominantly on high levels of vaccination and social distancing to protect against severe diseases and death.
The same experience with COVID’s growing infectiousness and the challenges of containing it had the opposite effect in China. The country has quelled three major delta outbreaks since the variant first emerged in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in May and is now in the midst of its fourth.
The present situation, however, is proving different. While China’s success against COVID continues thus far, financial markets may be starting to sour on the approach forcing the government to resort to dramatic restrictions more frequently, resulting in disruptions that weigh on the economy and people’s lives.
“Investors are worried that Beijing’s virus measures may cool down China’s economic activities and hamper its recovery,” said Steven Leung, executive director at UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong.
China’s CSI 300 Index fell as much as 1.9 percent Tuesday, November 2, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises Index erased an earlier 2.2 percent gain.
The curbs have reached a level of absurdity and disruption to the daily lives of many, from the lockdown of tens of thousands of guests at Disneyland in Shanghai, to traffic lights turned permanently to red to stop people moving around and repeated testing of babies to ensure the virus isn’t gaining a toe-hold.
The current COVID case-fatality rate of two percent amid the growing adoption of vaccines cannot be tolerated, Zhong said. He added that a change in tactics by other COVID Zero countries caused the infections to quickly proliferate. “‘That’s a dangerous event,” Zhong said.
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