TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China banned most people from leaving a coronavirus-hit northeastern province and mobilized military reservists on Monday as the fast-spreading “stealth omicron” variant fuels the largest country’s epidemic since the start of the pandemic two years ago.
The National Health Commission reported 1,337 locally transmitted cases in the past 24 hours, including 895 in the industrial province of Jilin. A government notice said police clearance would be required for people to leave the area or move between towns.
The hard-hit province has sent 7,000 reservists to help with the response, from keeping order and registering people at testing centers to using drones to carry out aerial spraying and disinfection, reported the public television channel CCTV.
Hundreds of cases have been reported in other provinces and cities on China’s east coast and interior. Beijing, which had six new cases, and Shanghai, with 41, locked down residential and office buildings where infected people had been found.
“Every day when I go to work, I’m afraid that if our office building is suddenly closed, I won’t be able to get home, so I bought a sleeping bag and stocked fast food in advance at the office, just in case,” Yimeng Li, a Shanghai resident, said.
While mainland China’s numbers are low compared to many other countries, and even the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, they are the highest since COVID-19 killed thousands in the city. central Wuhan in early 2020. No deaths were reported in the latest outbreaks.
Hong Kong reported 26,908 new cases and 249 deaths in its last 24-hour period on Monday. The city is counting its cases differently from the mainland, combining both rapid antigen tests and PCR test results.
City leader Carrie Lam said authorities would not tighten pandemic restrictions at this time. “I have to wonder if the public, if the people would accept new measures,” she said at a press briefing.
Mainland China has seen relatively few infections since the initial outbreak in Wuhan, as the government has stuck to its zero-tolerance strategy, which focuses on stopping transmission of the coronavirus by relying on strict lockdowns and mandatory quarantines for anyone who has come into contact with a positive case.
The government has indicated that it will continue to stick to its strategy of stopping transmission for the time being.
On Sunday, authorities locked down the southern city of Shenzhen, which has a population of 17.5 million and is a major technology and financial hub that borders Hong Kong. This followed the lockdown of Changchun, home to 9 million people in Jilin province, from last Friday.
Zhang Wenhong, a leading infectious disease expert at a hospital affiliated with Fudan University in Shanghai, noted in an essay for Chinese outlet Caixin on Monday that the numbers for the mainland were still in the early stages of development. an “exponential increase”.
China’s extensive passenger rail network said it would significantly reduce service, and China Railway and airlines said they would offer free refunds to people who had already purchased tickets. Shanghai has suspended bus service to other cities and provinces.
Shanghai recorded 713 cases in March, including 632 asymptomatic cases. China counts positive and asymptomatic cases separately in its national figures. Schools in China’s largest city have switched to remote learning.
In Beijing, several buildings were cordoned off this weekend. Residents said they were prepared to follow zero tolerance policies despite any personal impact.
“I think only when the epidemic is completely wiped out can we calm down,” said Tong Xin, 38, a store owner at the Silk Market, a tourist-oriented mall in the Chinese capital. .
Much of the current outbreak in Chinese cities is caused by the variant commonly referred to as the “stealth omicron,” or the BA2 lineage of the omicron variant, Zhang noted. Early research suggests it spreads faster than the original omicron, which itself spread faster than the original virus and other variants.
“But if our country opens up quickly now, it will cause a large number of infections among people in a short time,” Zhang wrote on Monday. resources and a short-term shock to social life, causing irreparable harm to families and society.
Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang in Beijing and researcher Chen Si contributed to this report from Shanghai.
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