China’s fourth Delta spike spreads to 19 regions, tests ‘COVID zero’ policy

Science & Health

With exactly three months to go until the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, health officials in the capital and elsewhere are taking extreme measures to quash the latest Delta-driven spike in COVID-19. How long will China hold out as the last “COVID zero” country?

covid testing in hohhot china
A medical worker collects information during COVID-19 mass testing in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, on ​​October 29, 2021. Image via Xinhua.

China’s latest Delta-driven outbreak of COVID-19, its fourth such spike since June, has multiplied in case numbers and geographic spread over the past week.

As the world’s only remaining “COVID zero” countrySingapore, Australia, and New Zealand have shifted to treating the virus as endemic — China has continued to take extreme measures to eliminate all local spread of the virus.

  • Shanghai Disneyland locked in over 30,000 visitors over the weekend for mass testing after a single person who had tested positive for COVID-19 was found to have visited the site.
  • Train ticket sales to Beijing, where 38 cases represent the largest number of any Delta-driven spike so far, were “halted…from 123 stations in 23 regions,” Bloomberg reports.
  • After one Beijing teacher tested positive, hundreds of young students were caught in a snap lockdown, and 16 other schools were closed.
  • Ruili, Yunnan, a city bordering high-risk Myanmar, “has been stuck in semi-lockdown since early July” per Caixin, and the continued restrictions have led to an outcry. A former vice mayor of the city “lamented local lockdowns and disruptions caused by repeated COVID-19 outbreaks and wrote a rare plea for a ‘strong’ helping hand from Beijing,” Reuters reports.
  • “At least three officials” from Shijiazhuang, Hebei, have been suspended or removed from their posts for failing to respond to the region’s outbreak fast or effectively enough, per the Global Times.

Diminishing returns for COVID zero?

Chinese officials seem set, for now, on maintaining the course with strict virus control policies. On November 2, Zhōng Nánshān 钟南山, one of the nation’s most prominent public health figures, argued in a CGTN interview (in Chinese) that China’s virus containment policies are “not too costly when it comes to sporadic COVID-19 outbreaks, and in fact costs less than treating patients after they’ve been infected.”

But there are some signs of strain, or at least openness to rethinking the strictest versions of the health policies, in Beijing.

  • “When the dividend on COVID zero no longer exists, we won’t do that,” Zēng Guāng 曾光, the former chief scientist of epidemiology at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in August.
  • “As China gradually becomes an ‘isolated island’ in terms of exercising the dynamic zero-COVID policy, its advantages over the open model may decrease gradually,” Hú Xījìn 胡锡进, the editor of the state-owned tabloid Global Times wrote today. “We must strengthen the rationality and accuracy of the dynamic zero-COVID policy.”

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