China, which maintains an iron policy of zero covid within its territory and for this purpose keeps its borders closed almost to the bar, has registered its first two cases of the omicron variant of coronavirus, while trying to contain a new outbreak in one of its industrial cores, Zhejiang province. The two cases of omicron are “imported”, brought by passengers from other countries.
One of the cases of the new variant, detected in the southern city of Canton and whose diagnosis was made known this Tuesday, is especially alarming for the health authorities: during his two-week quarantine, mandatory upon arrival from abroad, this traveler He had tested negative in all the tests that were carried out for the detection of covid. The positive jumped as he concluded the last part of the surveillance period, confined to his home for a week and after he had already taken an internal flight, between Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Canton’s case comes a day after the National Health Commission confirmed the first case of omicron identified in Chinese territory. Local authorities detected the infection in the city of Tianjin, in the northeast of the country.
In the case detected in Tianjin, a Chinese national returning to his country was identified as an asymptomatic patient at the airport upon arrival. Put in isolation, the genome sequence of his virus confirmed that it was the new variant. But since he was confined from the first moment, it is unlikely that he could have passed it on to other people.
The second case concerns a 67-year-old man, who entered China through the Shanghai airport. After serving his 14-day quarantine in that city, as ordered by national measures against the virus, he traveled to Canton on an almost full commercial flight. Only when he arrived in this city and underwent a new PCR test, 15 days after his arrival in the country, did he test positive. Genome sequencing indicated that it was the omicron variant.
After the diagnosis, tests have been carried out on more than 10,000 people who were in contact with the patient, who does show symptoms of the disease and is admitted to a hospital. So far, none of them have yielded positive results. The block of flats where the patient lives has been confined.
So far, the Chinese health authorities have expressed, however, their confidence that they will continue to maintain the virus at almost non-existent levels in the most populous country in the world, with 1,411 million inhabitants, among whom barely 100,000 cases have been registered. Government experts allude to the policy of closing the borders in an almost totally hermetic way – only foreigners are allowed in for business reasons, and the granting of new passports to Chinese citizens has been limited – and to the strict control of those who They come as keys to success.
The highest health authorities rule out that short-term measures are going to be relaxed and refer, precisely, to omicron infections in the world to insist on the need to maintain them. If the borders were reopened, it could unleash a “colossal avalanche” of cases in the country, as warned last month by a study prepared by scientists at Peking University and published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China ( CDCC).
The emergence of the omicron variant further justifies that “China’s zero tolerance policy is correct,” Dr. Ivan Hung of the University of Hong Kong noted by videoconference earlier this month. This infectious disease expert and covid advisor to the Hong Kong government believes that in order to begin to relax international travel restrictions it is necessary for the country to have close to 100% of its population vaccinated. China, the country where transmission of the virus began, has administered more than 2.5 billion doses of vaccines, and about 1.1 billion people, or 80% of its population, have received the full schedule.
The discovery of the omicron cases comes with less than two months to go before the opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, an event that the Chinese authorities do not want to see tarnished under any circumstances. The capital increasingly toughens its anticovid measures: to enter the city it is necessary to show the negative result of a PCR test carried out in the previous 48 hours. Flights from areas considered high risk due to their relatively large number of cases have been reduced or canceled. Those who come from areas where cases have been detected will have to wait to be able to move.
But despite the zero covid policy, small coronavirus outbreaks continue to emerge across the country: the Health Commission has reported cases every day for the past eight weeks. This Tuesday, it reported 51 diagnoses, of which 44 are located in the province of Zhejiang, one of the great centers of manufacturing production in the entire country. In total, the outbreak already accumulates more than 200 infections. Half a million people are confined in the province, and in some districts shops have been closed. Many factories have stopped their production, at a time when global supply chains already drag serious bottlenecks as a result of the pandemic.
The city of Ningbo, one of the main ports in China and a hub of industrial production, is one of those affected by the cases in that province. All its flights to Beijing have been canceled, while only one daily is allowed between the national capital and Hangzhou, the provincial capital.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.