China placed parts of the northeastern city of Dalian under lockdown over the weekend, amid a fresh wave of cases of the delta coronavirus variant.
Health authorities said they had confirmed 32 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Nov. 14, most of which were domestically transmitted in Dalian, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since Oct. 17 to 1,308, Reuters reported.
Neighboring cities are now quarantining arrivals from Dalian for 14 days before allowing them to move around freely, the agency said.
Schools have been closed, and some 800,000 people in Dalian, a city of 7.5 million, are now confined to their homes, with municipal officials citing large numbers of asymptomatic infections linked to clusters in schools, companies and families.
A resident of northeast China surnamed Li said the ongoing pandemic in the region is likely linked to the low effectiveness of domestic COVID-19 vaccines.
“They force us to get vaccinated, then they don’t worry too much about people catching it after that,” Li said. “But even [premier] Li Keqiang has said the quality of [Chinese-made] vaccines isn’t high enough.”
“The people who have to suffer for all of this are those stuck at home in isolation,” she said. “Restrictions in Dalian are pretty tight — don’t even think about going anywhere.”
“One social media user in Dalian said they had all had to do a PCR test for the third time [since the outbreak began], and there was always someone testing positive,” Li said.
The Dalian Epidemic Prevention and Control Center also imposed a lockdown on Zhuanghe city, which it administers, warning the city’s 400,000 residents to stay home on pain of penalties if they try to go out, amid a cluster of dozens of COVID-19 cases among students in the city.
Sources never clear
Zhang Hai, a family member of one of the earliest victims of the pandemic in the central city of Wuhan, said the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn’t seem to be able to deliver its “zero-COVID” policy on the ground.
“We keep getting an outbreak here, an outbreak there,” Zhang said. “I always think that it’s never clear what the source of each outbreak is.”
“They get a problem here, and try to imposed restrictions and lockdowns, then it pops up over there, and they lock down, and so it goes,” he said.
“They really need to get a clear handle on the source to control these outbreaks effectively.”
Outbreaks at universities
Meanwhile, new clusters of delta cases were also being reported at universities in Beijing.
Peking University closed its gates on Nov. 12 after a number of cases were confirmed on campus, and staff in full protective gear were seen disinfecting public areas of the university.
Local media quoted a staff member as saying that while the measures were in response to students who had caught “colds,” the university isn’t under lockdown, however.
Coronavirus expert Liang Wannian told state broadcaster CCTV that the government is no longer trying to maintain a “zero COVID” policy, but instead zeroing in on emerging clusters with targeted measures.
Commentator He Bin, who is familiar with public health procedures, said the partial lockdowns are now just “face-saving” exercises for local officials.
“Any action that is part of pandemic measures in China is political,” He said. “The ‘targeted measures’ for COVID-19 is a face-saving project, much like the ‘elimination of poverty’.”
He said the failure to contain delta didn’t bode well for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
“I don’t think it will be possible to clear this outbreak by then,” he said.
He said the current method of scattergun lockdowns had spawned all manner of economic benefits for cash-strapped local governments, who he said were profiteering from supplying groceries and PCR tests to people under lockdown.
“The pandemic economy is pretty profitable right now,” He said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.