Chinese authorities have decided to go back to restrictive sanitary measures as around 133 cases of COVID-19 were detected in 11 provinces last week. The Beijing marathon has also been suspended.
While officials are still trying to trace the origin of the new wave of infections, epidemiological analysis has suggested it might have come from abroad. The outbreak was first detected on October 16 among a tour group of fully vaccinated senior citizens from Shanghai who travelled in several northern regions.
As the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant is spreading nationwide, confinements and restrictions returned to northern China, including the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Guizhou and Beijing.
According to Chinese health authorities, it is the largest outbreak since last July, when a plane from Moscow unleashed an outbreak of the Delta variant in Nanjing, one of the most important urban centres in the country.
Since October 17, there have been multiple local hotbeds in China and they are expanding rapidly, said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission.
In Beijing, where the Oct. 31 marathon has been already suspended, the outbreak has already spread to three districts, including the Haidian science centre. In that scenario, local authorities have increased entry controls into the city, which include the requirement of a negative test in addition to monitoring for 14 days, while all non-essential travel is being discouraged and travel agencies have been banned from organizing cross-provincial tours.
The country had already cancelled the Wuhan marathon, three months before the start of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Overseas spectators already have been banned from the Games, and participants will have to stay in a bubble separating them from people outside.
China maintains its Zero Covid policy in an overcrowded country where 75% of its population has reportedly taken a full vaccine treatment. Nevertheless, there is an increasing risk that the outbreak will spread even further, Mi pointed out.
Beijing is to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in February and members of the ruling Communist Party's elite Central Committee are due to gather there for their annual meeting, during which President Xi Jinping is expected to be appointed for a third term in office. But the city has already recorded 14 confirmed cases in the latest outbreak, including 12 over the past three days, according to a CNN tally of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission's daily reports.
With the future of Beijing's agenda hanging in the balance, local authorities have made an example of six residents who allegedly broke COVID-19 restrictions by going out to eat despite having developed fevers upon returning to Inner Mongolia or trying to climb over the fences of their locked-down gated community.
China has also announced it would begin vaccinating kids from the age of 3, making it one of the very few countries in the world to inject children that young against the virus. Argentina is another example, while Cuba has launched a vaccine drive for children as young as 2. The United States and many European countries presently allow COVID-19 shots down to age 12.
China's National Health Commission reported that 35 new cases of local transmission had been detected over the past 24 hours, four of them in Gansu. An additional 19 cases were found in the Inner Mongolia region, with others scattered around the country.
China has employed lockdowns, quarantines and compulsory testing for the virus throughout the pandemic and has largely stamped out cases of local infection while fully vaccinating 1.07 billion people out of a population of 1.4 billion.
The efficacy of China's most widely used vaccines, from Sinopharm and Sinovac, against the Delta variant has not been established yet conclusively. Cambodia uses both Sinovac and Sinopharm’s shots in children 6 to 11. Regulators in Chile approved Sinovac for children as young as 6.
Sinovac started an efficacy trial with 14,000 child participants across multiple countries in September. Its approval in China was based on smaller phase 1 and phase 2 trials. Sinopharm’s Beijing shot was also approved based on smaller phase 1 and phase 2 trials. These were published later in peer-reviewed journals.