The Omicron variant continues to spread in China, entire cities are cordoned off. The country’s economy is also feeling the effects.
Munich/Hefei – A few weeks ago there were only a few dozen cases a day, now the number of new infections is regularly in the four-digit range: In China* the corona virus* has been spreading faster than it has been in two years since last week. On Monday, the authorities reported 2,343 new cases, after 3,393 new infections on Sunday. Most new infections are now due to the very contagious omicron variant.
China has a zero-Covid policy and always responds to individual outbreaks with mass testing and lockdowns*. The extent to which this strategy can sometimes take on can be seen in the city of Hefei in Anhui province, which has a population of nine million. The hashtag “Pandemic in Hefei” trended on the social network Weibo on Monday after apparently a single positive case had been reported there.
On Monday afternoon (local time), the city administration wrote that a person who had tested positive had arrived in Hefei two days earlier by high-speed train. Apparently with the help of movement data, it was reconstructed where the person was at what time, what means of transport they used and where they went shopping. A mall the person had visited was closed Monday. People were asked to get tested if they were in the same place with the infected person at the same time.
The city’s citizens should only leave Hefei in urgent cases, the responsible authority said in a statement. Local officials are regularly deposed or reviled by the state media in the event of corona outbreaks in their area of responsibility. This increases the pressure on them to take tough action against any source of infection
China: Mainly affected north-east of the country
However, the epicenter of the current corona wave is far away from Hefei. Most cases were last reported in northeastern Jilin Province; In the two metropolises of Changchun (9 million inhabitants) and Jilin City (3.6 million inhabitants) alone, more than 1,000 new infections were counted on Monday. On Friday, Changchun was put into a lockdown by the authorities. In addition, mass tests were ordered. In addition, only one person per household is allowed to leave the apartment every two days to go shopping.
Changchun was the largest city to be completely locked down since the 13-million metropolis of Xi’an went into lockdown in December. Parts of Jilin City have also been put under lockdown. The financial metropolis of Shanghai is still fighting against the lockdown* for almost 25 million residents. Only parts of the city are locked down. The authorities also ordered mass tests in one district. Authorities instructed citizens not to leave Shanghai unless absolutely necessary.
China: Local lockdowns affecting the economy
The decision is difficult because the more lockdowns there are, the more they affect the economy. For example, Volkswagen stopped production at three of its plants in closed-off Changchun on Monday, according to a spokeswoman for the carmaker.
The corona measures are already affecting the economy in the southern province of Guangdong *. There, a lockdown was imposed on the 17 million inhabitants of the metropolis Shenzhen* bordering Hong Kong and on other smaller cities. In Shenzhen, the large Apple supplier Foxconn then ceased operations on Monday. According to the Financial Times , more than 30 other IT factories are in lockdown. The number of cases in Shenzhen is relatively low: only around 100 cases were reported on Monday. The lockdown initially means that the freedom of movement of citizens is massively restricted and buses and subways stop operating. In addition, the residents of the city are to be tested three times for the corona virus.
China: Government sticks to zero-Covid strategy
But despite the effects of the Corona measures on the economy, the Chinese leadership wants to stick to the zero Covid strategy. At the meeting of the National People’s Congress* that ended on Friday, China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang* called for “things like vaccination and the development of effective medicines” to be strengthened. In addition, rapid antigen tests for the home are to be introduced for the first time, which could result in a relaxation of state controls.
Meanwhile, despite relatively few cases in mainland China, public concerns appear to be increasing. The hashtag “Long Covid” also trended on Weibo on Monday. Many users referred to studies on the long-term consequences of a corona infection.
So far, the people have largely supported the strict policy. On social media, for example, many users blamed the failed corona policy in Shenzhen’s neighboring city of Hong Kong * for the increase in cases: photos were shared on Weibo showing crowded beaches in Hong Kong, where people enjoy the sun without masks and distance. “Shenzhen is closing, Hong Kong is crazy,” is the subtitle of the pictures. According to official information, about a quarter of the new infections counted in Shenzhen were imported from Hong Kong.
China: Fifth corona wave has Hong Kong firmly in its grip
The city with its 7.4 million inhabitants is currently experiencing the worst corona wave since the beginning of the pandemic *. Tens of thousands of cases have been reported every day for weeks. On Monday, the number of new infections was almost 27,000. In total, more than 720,000 people have been infected since the current fifth corona wave began. By mid-year, Kwok Kin-on, a professor at the School of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, estimates that five million residents of the former British crown colony could have been infected.
Death rates in Hong Kong are also high, which experts attribute primarily to the low vaccination rate among older people. According to official information, mass tests like in the rest of China or a lockdown are currently not planned for Hong Kong. However, Beijing sent 75 medical workers to the city on Monday to help out in the overburdened hospitals.
“I have to weigh up what society and the public can accept and will not rush to introduce new measures,” said Beijing-leaning Prime Minister Carrie Lam. “But I appeal again to the public not to be careless. Even if the number of cases has stabilized and there is a slight downward trend, it is not yet time to relax.” On the Hong Kong stock exchange, the Hang Seng Index* fell by more than five percent by Monday afternoon (local time). (sh) *Merkur.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.