Regulatory policy

China’s rise in Covid cases seen as test for zero-tolerance policy

BEIJING — China recorded a sharp rise in daily Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, with new cases more than doubling from the previous day to a two-year high, sparking concerns about the rising economic costs of its strict measures to contain the disease.

A total of 3,507 locally transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms were reported Monday from more than a dozen provinces and municipalities, up from 1,337 the day before, the National Health Commission said.

Most of the new cases were in the northeastern province of Jilin.

Although the number of cases in China is still tiny by global standards, health experts said the increase in daily infections over the next few weeks will be key in determining whether its “dynamic zero-Covid” approach, of containing each outbreak quickly as it arises, remains effective against the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Makers of everything from USB drives to glass to Apple iPhone screens are warning of shipping delays as they comply with Chinese disease restrictions, putting additional pressure on retail chains. global supply.

The sharp rise fueled worries about China’s growth outlook, helping to rattle market sentiment, with its shares closing at 21-month lows on Tuesday.

Image: Residential complex under lockdown in Changchun
On Tuesday, medical workers entered a closed residential complex in Changchun, the capital of Jilin province. China Daily/via Reuters

A Covid-19 forecasting system run by Lanzhou University in northwest China predicted the current spate of infections would finally be brought under control in early April after a cumulative total of around 35,000 cases.

On Monday, the university said while the latest outbreak was the worst on the mainland since the virus was detected in Wuhan in late 2019, China could bring it under control by sticking to strict restrictions.

Not only is China’s zero-tolerance approach becoming more costly, it yields diminishing returns against the highly contagious omicron, said Yanzhong Huang, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Now we have two of the richest Chinese cities, Shanghai and Shenzhen, both under control: how will this affect the Chinese economy?” He asked.

Shanghai is not on lockdown and does not need it “at the moment” as it strives to minimize disruption to daily life, the city government said.

Barriers are placed to close streets around closed neighborhoods in Shanghai. Hector Retamal / AFP-Getty Images

The city will designate a few key areas where screening will be further tightened, while elsewhere the movement of people is to be reduced through measures such as staggered travel or remote working, it added in a statement.

The government of the southern city of Shenzhen has designated the week of epidemic control as a period of “slow life”, with buses and subways, weddings and funeral services all suspended and daily tests ordered for some residents.

China’s aviation regulator said 106 international flights due to arrive in Shanghai would be diverted to other domestic cities from March 21 to May 1 due to Covid.

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As of Monday, nearly 90 percent of the mainland’s new local symptomatic cases were in Jilin, which restricted travel for its 24.1 million people without notifying police.

Jilin officials should step up efforts to ensure the isolation of all infected cases and close contacts, a local newspaper quoted the provincial head of China’s ruling Communist Party as saying.

The northern city of Langfang on Tuesday ordered its 5.5 million residents to stay at home.

Monday’s figure for new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, was 1,768, down from 906 the day before. With no new deaths, the toll remained unchanged at 4,636.