“Zero COVID” under tension: faced with its worst epidemic outbreak in two years, China had to resolve on Friday to confine the large city of Changchun, in the Northeast of the country.
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In this city of nine million inhabitants, only one person per household is now allowed to go out, once every two days to ensure supplies, said the town hall, which is preparing to screen the entire population.
This confinement is the largest announced in China since that of the metropolis of Xi’an (North) and its 13 million inhabitants at the end of last year and for a month.
The town hall ordered the closure of schools and shops as well as public transport. It is forbidden to leave the city, which has registered several hundred cases in recent days.
Changchun, the city of “eternal spring”, is the capital of the province of Jilin, which borders North Korea. This closed country has so far never reported any cases of COVID.
China, where the virus was initially detected at the end of 2019 in Wuhan (center), quickly stemmed the epidemic from spring 2020 by adopting very strict containment measures, sometimes affecting entire cities.
The Asian giant has thus managed to largely stem the contagion, with an official toll of just over 100,000 cases, including 4,636 deaths exactly, in the space of two years.
The communist regime sees in this the superiority of its authoritarian system compared to the many deaths recorded by democratic countries.
But the Omicron strain is causing localized outbreaks that affected 1,369 people in exactly the past 24 hours on Friday, according to Health Ministry figures.
A figure which remains low compared to the rest of the world, but which is nonetheless the highest for China since the first phase of the epidemic, at the beginning of 2020.
Of this total, the authorities have counted 158 imported cases and 814 asymptomatic cases, which are the subject of a separate count.
The spike comes as cases spiral out of control in southern Hong Kong, where hospitals are overflowing with patients and locals are robbing supermarkets in panic, fearing lockdown.
Chinese authorities fear that potentially infected residents have smuggled to the mainland from Hong Kong, spreading the contagion.
But the strict containment measures weigh on daily life and the economy.
A top Chinese scientist said last week that the country should seek to live with the virus and could abandon its so-called zero COVID strategy “in the near future”.
Very few Chinese have been infected and their collective immunity comes almost entirely from domestically manufactured vaccines, noted this expert, Zeng Guang, who considered China weakened compared to the West.
The authorities, however, did not give consideration to abandoning zero COVID during the annual session of Parliament which concluded on Friday.
“We must constantly refine the measures” against the epidemic, Prime Minister Li Keqiang simply indicated, during a river speech to deputies on March 5.
Many parts of the country are now facing tougher anti-epidemic measures, including Shanghai, China’s most populous city (25 million people), where students will now have to take their lessons online.
Municipal authorities have tried in recent months to impose targeted measures, imposing strict confinements only in a few neighborhoods or in places where cases have been recorded.
It happens that people find themselves stuck at their place of work or in restaurants while waiting to be screened. Waiting for the result can take up to 48 hours.