China’s spiraling Delta variant outbreak hits Wuhan, prompting mass testing of 11 million residents


China is grappling with its worst outbreak in months, with more than 300 cases detected in more than two dozen cities across the country.

On Monday, seven infections were reported among migrant workers in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus was first detected in December 2019. As of Wednesday, a total of 20 local infections have been reported, including 8 asymptomatic cases, according to the Hubei provincial health commission.
The city of 11 million people was placed under the world’s first and arguably strictest coronavirus lockdown in January 2020, during the height of its devastating initial outbreak. The paralyzing 76-day lockdown came at a huge personal cost to residents, but eventually succeeded in taming the virus. Wuhan had not reported any locally transmitted cases since May last year.

But now, the highly contagious Delta variant has put authorities on high alert.

On Tuesday, Wuhan launched a citywide coronavirus testing drive, with residents forming long lines at community testing sites late into the evening.

A medical worker takes samples during a mass Covid-19 test inside a residential compound in Wuhan on August 3, 2021.
Some fear the return of a stringent lockdown. Videos and photos shared on social media Monday show empty shelves and long lines at supermarkets, as residents rushed to stock up daily supplies.
“Seeing Wuhan people panic buying at supermarkets makes me feel sad. Only those who have experienced it understand how terrible it is, (we) dread a return to the days of staying at home and not knowing where the next meal is,” said a Wuhan resident on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
During Wuhan’s initial lockdown, millions of residents were ordered to stay in their homes, relying on officials and volunteers for daily necessities — often at a higher price.
As of Wednesday, no citywide lockdown has been announced for Wuhan, although residential compounds linked to detected cases have been placed under targeted lockdowns.

Spiraling outbreak

The ongoing outbreak first started in Nanjing, Jiangsu province in eastern China, where nine airport cleaners were found to be infected on July 20 during a routine test. Chinese authorities have linked the cluster to a flight from Russia, which arrived at the Nanjing Lukou International Airport on July 10.
“It is believed that the cleaners did not strictly follow anti-epidemic guidelines after cleaning Flight CA910 and contracted the virus as a result. The infection further spread to other colleagues, who are also responsible for cleaning and transporting garbage on both international and domestic flights,” reported state news agency Xinhua.

The fast spreading Delta variant has posed a major challenge to China’s hardline zero Covid strategy, which relies on mass testing, targeted lockdowns, extensive contact tracing and strict quarantine measures to quickly suppress local flare-ups.

Delta variant challenges China's zero Covid strategy — and raises questions over its vaccine efficacy

China responded by doubling down on its containment approach, adopting stringent measures on a scale not seen in months. Several cities have been placed under effective lockdowns, ordering residents to stay in their homes and canceling flights and trains.

The country has also imposed massive nationwide travel restrictions. All provincial authorities have urged citizens not to travel to medium and high-risk areas or leave the provinces where they live unless it is strictly necessary.

The Chinese government is particularly concern about the spread of the virus to Beijing, which is set to hold the Winter Olympics in February next year. The city has reported a handful of cases since last week — its first coronavirus resurgence in months.

Beijing authorities have banned people from medium- or high-risk areas from entering, suspending flights, trains and buses from Covid-hit places. Since Tuesday, 23 railway stations have halted ticket sales for train rides heading to the capital, Xinhua reported.

Mahjong parlors

China reported 71 locally transmitted confirmed cases On Wednesday, with nearly half of them coming from Jiangsu province, according to the National Health Commission. The city of Yangzhou, neighboring Nanjing, has become the latest hotspot, reporting 32 local infections.
Authorities have blamed the outbreak in Yangzhou on a 70-year-old Nanjing resident, who traveled to Yangzhou on July 21 despite her residence in Nanjing had been placed under a lockdown, according to a statement from the Yangzhou police.

The elderly woman, who stayed in Yangzhou with her sister, did not inform local officials of her travel history as required, and repeatedly visited crowded places including restaurants, markets and mahjong parlors, the statement said.

The woman sought treatment at a hospital on July 27 after she started coughing and developed a fever, and tested positive for coronavirus a day later. She has been criminally detained by police and is under investigation for suspected obstruction of the prevention and control of infectious diseases, according to the statement.

Mahjong parlors, popular with older people, have played a central role in the spread of Covid in Yangzhou, according to authorities. On Wednesday, Jiangsu officials said at a press conference that 64% of Yangzhou’s 94 confirmed cases as of Tuesday were linked to Mahjong parlors, and 68% of confirmed cases are above 60 years old.

Both Yangzhou and Nanjing have conducted several rounds of citywide testing, and suspended all domestic flights and online car hailing services.



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