The latest outbreak started two weeks ago in the eastern city of Nanjing, where nine airport cleaners were found to be infected during a routine test. Since then, the cluster has spread to at least 26 cities across China, including a tourist hot spot in the southern province of Hunan and the capital Beijing.
Chinese authorities responded swiftly with mass testing, targeted lockdowns, extensive contact tracing and quarantine of close contacts — a tried and tested formula that has helped it quickly tame local flare-ups since March 2020.
Restrictions have also been ramped up in Beijing, which reported its first local infection in nearly six months last week. Since then, five local cases with travel history to Zhangjiajie have been detected. The city has banned people from medium- or high-risk areas from entering, suspending flights, trains and buses from Covid-hit places.
Huang Yanzhong, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Chinese authorities are responding to the threat of the Delta variant with the same playbook used in previous outbreaks, but in an even more stringent manner — several cities have been placed under effective lockdowns.
“It shows the problem of diminishing returns of the existing ‘zero-tolerance’ approach,” he said.
Elsewhere in the world, countries with relatively high vaccination rates are increasingly choosing to tolerate a degree of transmission, as long as it doesn’t translate into a surge in hospitalizations and deaths. In China, however, authorities appear intent on imposing strict restrictions despite having administered more than 1.65 billion homegrown vaccine doses — ranking above the US in terms of doses administered per 100 people.
The rapid spread of the Nanjing cluster to cities across the country has triggered concerns over the level of protection currently offered by Chinese vaccines against the Delta variant.
Chinese authorities have not offered a fuller breakdown of how many subsequent cases were also vaccinated.
Several other countries that used Chinese vaccines have also reported infections among vaccinated people. In June, Indonesian officials said more than 350 medical…
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