Despite the iron clad rules, why are COVID cases rising again in China?
Beijing, Nov 25: China has slipped deeper into the coronavirus quagmire as it reported a record number of COVID-19 cases ever since the pandemic began with many of its cities resorting to expanding lockdowns, including in a central city where factory workers clashed this week with police, to curb the virus. Besides Beijing, big outbreaks are reported in Guangzhou, and Chongqing besides Jinan, Xian, Chengdu and Lanzhou, as reported by PTI.
According to the National Health Commission, the number of new COVID cases rose by 31,444 in the last 24 hours. It must be noted that the daily surge reported was the highest since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. The Chinese authorities also reported first COVID-19 deaths in six months, bringing the overall tally to 5,232. However, the numbers are relatively small when compared with China's t population of 1.4 billion, AFP reported.
Why the rise again?
Despite the iron-clad authoritarian rule of the Communist Party of China led by President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has been unable to contain the outbreaks and the cases are hitting record numbers. So, why are the cases rising now?
- Omicron sub variant BF.7
- Mass testing and 'zero COVID' policy
- Rate of Vaccination
In order to stem the virus spread, China has been following a stringent dynamic 'zero COVID' policy that aims to isolate every case and eliminate the virus entirely, however, a new Omicron sub-variant is posing a fresh threat in the country.
Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Beijing CDC, stated that the the fast-mutating and virulent Omicron variant BF.7 imported from a trading town outside Beijing is the main strain in the current outbreak of Coronavirus, as per The Global Times report. Liu further stressed that the Omicron variant BF.7 which is highly infectious has resulted in cluster infections in nursing homes, construction sites and schools.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu of the WHO also cited the same as the primary reason."The virus is evolving, changing its behaviour," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu. "With that, changing your measures will be very important."
Another reason could be the mass testing. According to reports, in areas where cases have been reported, mass testing is being conducted. A report on BBC cited that people who are found to have coronavirus are quarantined at home or in a government-supervised facility. However, experts believe that China's 'Zero-COVID' policy does not help much in mitigating the virus spread. While other countries are learning to live with the virus, China believes this policy saves lives and also prevents health facilities from getting overwhelmed, reports claim.
The goal of achieving a Covid-free China has resulted in a focus that may overlook a critical issue, namely poor vaccination rate among the elderly, the Lancet says in a report.
The BBC report had cited that only about half of people in China aged 80 and above have received their primary vaccinations, with fewer than 20 per cent of them having secured a booster. Fewer than 60 per cent of the 60-69 age group is fully vaccinated.
It must be recalled that China has so far approved only two domestic vaccines - CoronaVac and Sinopharm - that have been developed using older technology. Studies suggested that the immunity from two doses of the either of the vaccines wanes rapidly, and the protection offered to older people is limited. The report further states that because of the lack of trust in domestic vaccine development, many older people, who are already concerned about safety and often prefer traditional medicine, have refused Covid-19 vaccination.
Workers walk out of iPhone factory, highlighting virus woes
Foxconn, headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, the world's biggest contract assembler of smartphones and other electronics, is struggling to fill orders for the iPhone 14 after thousands of employees walked away from the factory in Zhengzhou last month following complaints about unsafe working conditions.
Some employees told BBC that they were protesting after the company "changed the contract they promised". Some also feared being infected by the COVID-19 from the staff who were there during the previous outbreak.
Meanwhile, the company said its contractual obligation about payments 'has always been fulfilled'. The company denied what it said were comments online that employees with the virus lived in dormitories at the Zhengzhou factory, as reported by PTI. It said facilities were disinfected and passed government checks before employees moved in.
While the majority of the countries across the world have lifted Covid 19-related curbs, China has continued with its strict zero-Covid policy which has met with resentment among its population and sparked sporadic protests throughout the country. Residents in many cities have taken to street to vent their anger against the lockdowns and closures of businesses.
In October, Foxconn had locked down its site, leading some workers to flee the plant and go home. This made the company hire new workers with the promise of offering generous bonuses. Since then, it implemented 'closed-loop management,' under which workers live in their factories with no outside contact, thereby isolating itself from Zhengzhou.
China needs a 'recalibration' of its zero-Covid strategy
As the periodic lockdowns resulted in a slowdown of the Chinese economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has waded into the controversy over Beijing's rigid zero-COVID policy asking the government to recalibrate its coronavirus policy to halt the disruption of industrial chains.
The IMF's annual health check of the Chinese economy, the world's second largest, this week has identified the Covid-19 pandemic, a slumping property market, and external demand as major risks.
China needs a recalibration; of its zero-Covid strategy to bring its economy back on track while relying on market reforms to raise productivity and deliver medium- and long-term growth, Gita Gopinath, first deputy managing director of the IMF said, as reported by news agency PTI.
It would be helpful for Beijing to increase the rate of vaccination, especially among the elderly if it really wants to strike a balance between economic growth and preserving lives and health, Gopinath told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. "We need to maintain vaccinations at a high level and deal with the cases that may come up by having sufficient antiviral medication to help, and having greater healthcare capacity," Gopinath said.China says much of its population is vaccinated against COVID but large chunks of the old age population were left out due to concerns over the impact of the vaccines on their health.