China fights Delta COVID-19 outbreak in Guangzhou with lockdowns and mass testing

Science & Health

The highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, is proving hard to control in Guangzhou. Like with other localized outbreaks over the past year, China is attempting to isolate the virus by testing nearly every resident in the city — 18 million tests in just three days.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

After the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in China — and the “political logjam” that prevented more effective early intervention to stop the new virus from becoming a pandemic — Chinese authorities took extraordinary measures to control the virus. About a month and a half after acknowledging the virus was transmissible and locking down Wuhan, the initial outbreak seemed largely under control.

But ever since then, China has played whack-a-mole with inevitable outbreaks of the virus as it recirculated around the world. From clusters in the country’s northeast to a second small outbreak in Wuhan, to Beijing, Dalian, and Qingdao, city after city was locked down to varying degrees. A few things all of China’s localized lockdowns had in common were:

  • Control measures went into effect after just a handful of cases were identified, due to a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Mass testing, at a scale and level of compulsion that few other countries would even contemplate, was commonplace. China tested all 9 million residents of Qingdao in a week after just 12 cases of COVID-19 were identified, for example.

Guangzhou is now straining to stop an outbreak of the new “Delta” variant of COVID-19, which was first identified in India. According to Caixin, it is “one of the most alarming flare-ups in China since last summer,” as Delta — also known as B.1.617 — has a “shorter incubation period, faster transmission speed, and higher viral load,” a local health official said.

The details on Delta in Guangzhou

Since late May, “More than 100 cases have been reported in Guangdong, China’s most populous province, with 96 of them in Guangzhou, the province’s capital,” CNBC reports.

  • About 140,000 people in 37 Guangzhou residential compounds are currently under stay-at-home orders, per Caixin, while about 30,000 people throughout Guangdong Province are in quarantine.
  • Guangzhou has required since May 31 that “all people leaving Guangzhou need to take a virus test before departure,” per Caixin. The window for testing was tightened today from 72 hours to 48 hours before departure, per the Global Times.
  • Guangzhou will test 18 million residents in just three days to scan for the more transmissible virus and prevent its spread, SCMP reports.
  • Other southern cities that have reported cases and are planning to conduct mass testing of varying levels include Foshan, Zhongshan, and Shenzhen.

What about vaccines?

  • When the new outbreak was first identified in Guangzhou in late May, Sixth Tone reported that authorities “suspended individual COVID-19 vaccine appointments to focus more on mass testing key groups.”
  • The city of 19 million people has administered more than 13 million doses of COVID-19 shots, per Caixin, but only 3.3 million are fully vaccinated.
  • China as a whole recently reached 40% vaccine coverage, but distribution is uneven across the country and the threshold for herd immunity could be very high.
  • A batch of 100,000 doses of a newer one-shot vaccine by CanSinoBIO were sent to Guangzhou to help it deal with its outbreak, Chinese media reported.

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