China moves to crush a COVID-19 cluster in the northeast before political meetings in Beijing

Domestic News
COVID-19 spreads in China's northeast region, centered around Jilin Province
Credit: Art Egorov / Adobe

Despite reporting no coronavirus deaths for over a month, Chinese authorities remain on high alert for virus infections. A cluster in northeastern China, which had mysterious origins in the Shulan suburb of Jilin City earlier this month, is still growing. The SCMP reports:

The small city of Shulan in northeast China has been locked down as a growing cluster of infections threatens to undermine the country’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.

All villages and residential compounds in the city of 700,000, in Jilin province near the Russian border, were sealed off at noon on Monday…

One person per household is allowed out every two days for two hours to buy necessities…

At least 34 people have since been infected in Jilin province and three in neighbouring Liaoning.

Five more officials in Jilin have been thrown out for their failure to contain the outbreak, and more than 8,000 people in Jilin Province have been put into quarantine, per the SCMP.

Why the extreme measures? The answer is simple: The Two Sessions. The most important political meetings on China’s annual calendar are set to happen in Beijing starting on May 21 and 22, and the leadership cannot afford to have an epidemic outbreak get out of hand at the same time that they — presumably — emphasize that the coronavirus is contained within China’s borders, that normal economic activity should resume as much as possible, and that the world can learn from China’s model.

A similar rationale may be why Wuhan is conducting mass testing. Per Reuters:

The city of Wuhan, the original epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China, conducted 335,887 nucleic acid tests on May 17, the local health authority said on Monday, compared with 222,675 tests a day earlier.

For earlier context, see our summary last Friday: China has reported zero COVID-19 deaths for a month.

Other COVID-19 news from China:

Not everyone in Wuhan is thrilled about getting tested, and some “expressed concern on Saturday that the very act of getting tested could expose them to the coronavirus,” Reuters reports.

Hospitals in Wuhan returned to normal operation on May 16, SCMP reports, a few weeks after the city’s final COVID-19 hospitalized patients were discharged on April 26.

Shanghai is going back to school, and you can read more about it from Sixth Tone’s story: Masked, sanitized, 1 meter apart: Shanghai goes back to school.

“Traffic jams are back in Beijing during rush hour, while more schools across the country plan to reopen this month and next after over 100 million students, or 40% of the total, already went back, according to [in Chinese] the Ministry of Education,” per Bloomberg (porous paywall).

Beijing has scrapped a “guideline that residents should wear masks while on outdoors, the first city in China and perhaps in the world to do so in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, signalling that the coronavirus is under control in the Chinese capital,” the Times of India says.

Another citizen journalist has been detained — SCMP reports: “Zhang Zhan, 37, is being held at a detention centre in Shanghai after reporting from the outbreak epicentre since February.”

Another Chinese citizen who tried to independently document what happened in Wuhan, the writer Fāng Fāng 方方, has gone “From ‘Voice of the People’ to ‘Traitor of China’” in the eyes of Chinese nationalists and state media, as What’s on Weibo documents.