Sunday, August 1

The return of the coronavirus to China: first death in eight months and more than 20 million people in quarantine


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Dozens of people with suitcases wait in line with their backs to a closed mobile store in Shijiazhuang, capital of China’s Hebei province, bordering Beijing. All of them are waiting for various buses to pick them up. They do not go on vacation, but to a center authorized by the local authorities to pass a quarantine. The same scene of the buses has been repeating all week. Because in Hebei, according to official statements, They are in war mode.

It is the term used by China’s health authorities to warn citizens that there is a new coronavirus outbreak, that lockdowns and massive PCR tests are about to begin. Shijiazhuang has been closed since last week. More than 500 new infections, originally related to a wedding in a nearby town, they were to blame for 11 million people having to lock themselves in their homes. In addition, on the outskirts of the city, an “isolation center” is being built to shelter around 3,000 people in contact with the positives.

Over the past few days, the viral situation has worsened and more cities have closed: Xingtai and Langfang in Hebei; the district of Quiet, north of Beijing; towns of Heilongjiang, a province in the northeast, on the border with Russia, where none of its almost 40 million inhabitants can go to another province. In total, in China, confined to their homes, there are already more than 22 million people. A number that doubles the first confinement there was for the coronavirus, on January 23, 2020 at its epicenter, Wuhan.

This Thursday, in addition, 138 new infections have been reported, the highest number of cases in a day for 10 months. The last highlighted data is surely the most revealing of how the situation in China has been controlled and to understand the current alarm: today a person has died from Covid-19. It is number 4,635 in China, according to official figures. We would have to go back to May 17 to find the last person killed by coronavirus in a country with more than 1.4 billion inhabitants.

Compared to the devastating pandemic situation in most countries, these data do not seem alarming. But the reality is that, since the initial outbreak in Wuhan a year ago, China has not reported as many infections. That the coronavirus could spread again through the Asian giant is what the Communist Party fears, which will bring down the successful measures and paralyze an economy that is the only one that grows among all the world powers. But, what worries more, as happened last year, is that the rebound coincides with the weeks leading up to the greatest displacement of people for the most important holidays for the Chinese, their New Year.

Year of the ox

With the second moon after the winter solstice comes the so-called Spring Festival, which begins on February 12. This, according to the Chinese zodiac, will be the year of the ox. The omens of astrologers are generally good. But in the fateful 2020, where the metal rat was the protagonist of the party, they were too, promising stability and money.

In China, a year ago, no one expected that a strange pneumonia would creep in on its most important holiday – it was called by the authorities those days – that left the seventh largest city in the country. The coronavirus began to spread at the worst possible time. It was the eve of Chinese New Year and 3,000 million displacements were expected.

In addition, the origin was in Wuhan, a modern city with 60 air routes that connect with other countries, including direct flights to New York, Sydney, Paris and London, as well as more than 100 internal connections. On January 23, the authorities closed Wuhan, 48 hours before the start of vacations and family reunions. But the trips had already begun and the infections had reached Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

The closures of borders, cities, strict quarantines and massive PCR, accompanied by citizen responsibility, were enough for China to control the pandemic just four months after the first outbreak in Wuhan. The old normal was practically back. At Christmas, the first little scare for an outbreak of just over a dozen cases in a district of Beijing and about thirty in the northeastern province of Liaoning. The capital had been without contagion for more than three months. The neighborhoods where the cases had been found were closed and tests were carried out on all residents.

A somewhat bigger fear came at the beginning of 2021, when the focus was on Hebei, where this Thursday 81 new infections were reported. As the Chinese New Year holidays approach, the Government has established a working group chaired by the Minister of Transport, Li Xiaopeng, and made up of experts from the Ministry of Public Security, the National Railway Administration and the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

According to the Ministry of Transport, only by train, about 407 million trips are expected between January 28 and March 8. The authorities have been recommending citizens for days not to travel on these festive dates. A recommendation that has become mandatory for civil servants working in Beijing and for families with children in the capital’s schools.

Other citizens of Beijing have already canceled their planned trips for their seven-day vacation in February because their provinces force them to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. In the political center, despite not having a worrying spike in infections, controls are always stricter. For example: After a taxi driver tested positive over the weekend, authorities tracked 144 passengers in less than 24 hours. They all had a PCR done and were isolated at home. Now anyone who gets into a taxi or Didi (the Chinese Uber) in Beijing, has to scan the health app’s QR code from their phone with their mobile, which helps the authorities to track it quickly.

Along with these new outbreaks, which increases the alarm for a possible second wave of infections, the country is immersed in the middle of the mass vaccination campaign. On December 31, the vaccine produced by the state pharmaceutical company Sinopharm was approved, with an efficacy rate of 79%, lower than other vaccines already approved such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech (95%).. So far, more than 10 million people have already received the doses. According to the authorities, the goal is for 50 million people to be vaccinated before the Chinese New Year holidays.

China bans entry to WHO

In addition to the new outbreaks, the other news of the day in China was that, after many months of waiting and 122 countries requesting an international and independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, this Thursday morning, a team of researchers of the World Health Organization (WHO) has landed in Wuhan. Initially, it was a team of 10 virologists, epidemiologists, veterinarians, and food safety experts who were to trace, for at least five weeks, the origin and zoontic (animal) source of SARS-CoV-2. However, as reported by Reuters, China has not let in two team members, who had been waiting in Singapore for travel permits for days. The reason: have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies during blood serology tests.

It is not the first time that the Chinese authorities have not allowed people who test positive for antibodies to enter the country after overcoming the coronavirus. Even, a few months ago, a Spanish teacher who landed in China and was serving the mandatory quarantine in a hotel, They forced her to get on a flight back to Spain for testing positive for antibodies.

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