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Default China Returns to Its Strict Covid Limits to Fight a New Outbreak

China Returns to Its Strict Covid Limits to Fight a New Outbreak
By Keith Bradsher, 6/9/21, New York Times

BEIJING €” Neighborhoods under strict lockdown. Thousands
quarantined. Millions tested in mere days. Overseas arrivals
locked up for weeks & sometimes months. China has followed
variations of that formula for dealing with the coronavirus
for over a year €” & a new outbreak suggests that they could
be part of Chinese life for some time to come.

China appeared to get the corona under control nearly a year
ago. But hundreds of millions of Chinese people remain
unvaccinated. New variants of the virus have appeared, &
questions remain about whether Chinas self-made vaccines
can stop them.

The latest cases have been found in Guangzhou, capital of
the southern province of Guangdong. The authorities have
blamed the Delta variant, which has caused widespread loss
of life in India.

The city tested practically its entire population of 18.7
million between Sun & Tues, some of them for the 2nd time.
It has also put neighborhoods with a total of over 180,000
residents into total lockdowns, with practically no one
allowed out except for medical testing.

The early infections appear to have jumped from person to
person at a cluster of eateries. Each infected person has
infected more people than in any previous outbreak that
China has confronted, Zhang Zhoubin, deputy director of the
Guangzhou Ctr for Disease Control, said at a news conference.

€œThe epidemic faced by Guangzhou this time is an unprecedented
opponent, & it requires more resolute & decisive measures
to deal with it,€ he said.

Test facilities in Guangzhou have been operating around the
clock. Lines are long. Residents wake early to try to beat
the rush, but still find delays.

Mandy Li, a longtime resident of the citys Liwan District,
where most of the infections have occurred, said she set her
alarm clock for 3:30 a.m. She still had to wait an hour.

€œIn the queue, there was a family of 3,€ she said. €œSome
woke their kids to line up, & some had strollers. But
everyone was cooperative & quiet, as we know some volunteers
& med workers worked very hard & theyve been there all this
time without rest.€

Chinas approach has evolved since the coronavirus first
emerged, when Beijing initially put harsh restrictions on
hundreds of millions of people. Today its lockdowns are
focused on neighborhoods rather than cities or provinces.
China has made vaccination the centerpiece of its strategy.

Still, many of the core tenets remain for a huge & densely
populated country: vast testing, strict limits on movement
& intense scrutiny of arrivals from other countries.

Foreign businesses have worried that those limits on int'l
travelers could snarl their plans. A EU Chamber of Commerce
survey released this week found that 3/4 of member companies
said they had been adversely affected by travel restrictions,
usually by hindering them from bringing in key engineers or

Beijing has demanded that travelers from dozens of countries
spend 2 weeks in employer-supervised quarantine even before
flying to China. Once there, travelers must spend at least
2 weeks & sometimes 3 or more in govt-supervised quarantine,
even if they are fully vaccinated. Rounds of tests can turn
up a possibly false positive, leading to more tests &
additional days or weeks in isolation.

A German national who flew into Shanghai last month said
that he had been sent to a hospital isolation room for
3 days because he tested positive for antibodies, which he
attributed to taking a 2nd vaccine dose 16 days earlier.

Nurses took his blood twice/day & performed 6 throat swabs,
4 nasal swabs & 2 anal swabs daily, said the German, who
insisted on anonymity to avoid offending the authorities.
The hospital room had no towels, no toilet paper & no TV,
& the bed was a steel plate with a thin mat, he said.

The German said that, after consistently testing negative
for the virus, he was allowed to spend the remaining 11
days of isolation in a govt-supervised quarantine center.

Many businesses expect that China may retain stringent
travel restrictions thru Feb, when Beijing will host the
Winter Olympics, & possibly thru autumn of next year,
when the ChiComm Party will hold its party congress.

Many foreigners in China face a choice: If they leave to
visit spouses, kids & other family members elsewhere, they
may be unable to re-enter the country later because of the
pandemic restrictions.

€œThere is absolutely a growing fatigue for a lot of the
foreigners who are here,€ said Jacob Gunter, senior policy
& communications mgr at the EU Chamber of Commerce in China.

At home, Chinas leaders are pushing its people to get
vaccinated. It has administered about 800 million doses by
the govts count, compared with 300 million administered
in the US. Yin Weidong, the chairman & CEO of Sinovac
Biotech, one of Chinas main vaccine manufacturers, told
state TV last Fri that Chinese regulators had approved the
emergency use of vaccines in children as young as 3.

Still, administering 800 million doses €” almost all of the
vaccines require 2 shots €” means most of Chinas 1.4 billion
have not been fully vaccinated. Some people remain hesitant
to get the shots, & Chinese media outlets have used the
Guangzhou outbreak to encourage skeptics to get inoculated.

The spread of the virus has raised fresh questions about
the effectiveness of Chinas vaccines, particularly against
variants. The Seychelles last month & now Mongolia in the
past 3 weeks have both had large numbers of infections
despite high vaxx rates. Both have used the Sinopharm
vaccine from China, although the Seychelles also relied
partly on AstraZeneca vaccines.

The Delta variant now circulating in Guangzhou has also
shown the ability in other countries to infect some people
who had already been vaccinated, a phenomenon known as
vaccine escape. Research elsewhere has found that to be a
particular problem for people who have received only a
first injection of a 2-jab vaccine & are then exposed to
the Delta variant.

Researchers in Britain have found that receiving only the
first of two shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-
BioNTech vaccines may be only 30% effective in preventing
infection with the Delta variant, said Raina MacIntyre,
who heads the biosecurity program at the Kirby Inst. of
the U of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

After two doses, effectiveness appears to rise to 60%
with the AstraZeneca vaccine & 88% with Pfizer-BioNTech.
€œWith the degree of vaccine escape there is with the Delta
variant, you really do need people to be fully vaccinated,€
she said.

Mr. Yin, of Sinovac, told Chinas state-run TV on Saturday
that a 3rd shot of his companys vaccine produces a tenfold
increase in antibodies within a week. But Chinese vaccine
manufacturers are not yet recommending a third dose.

€œAs far as China is concerned, in fact, completing the
2-shot immunization is the most important task for all
the public,€ he said.

In the meantime, Guangzhou has tried to turn its virus
setback into a showcase for local technologies. Officials
there said they had used 31 driverless shuttle vans & trucks
to send food & other critical supplies into locked down
neighborhoods to avoid exposing delivery personnel.

By Tues, Guangdong Province had 157 people in hospital
with the virus & was announcing about 10 new cases/day.
The province & also Guangzhou itself have banned anyone
since last weekend from leaving unless they have a valid
reason & a negative nucleic acid test for the virus within
the preceding 48 hours.

Unlike many places around the world, Guangzhou at least does
not have to worry about running out of pandemic supplies:
It is coincidentally a hub for manufacturing & exporting
them. Chen Jianhua, chief economist of the Guangzhou Bureau
of Industry & Info Tech, said at a news conference on Wed
that the citys daily production capacity was 91 million
masks & 7 million sets of corona detection chemicals.
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