When a handful of new coronavirus cases emerged this month in a province around Beijing – apparently spread to a village wedding – Chinese authorities rushed into action.
They sealed off two cities with more than 17 million inhabitants, Shijiazhuang and Xingtai. They ordered a crash test system for nearly all of the residents there, which was completed in a matter of days.
They shut down transportation, canceled weddings and funerals, and, most importantly, canceled a regional Communist Party conference.
By this week, the lockdowns have expanded to include another city on the edge of Beijing, Langfang, as well as a county in Heilongjiang, a province in the country’s northeast. Areas in Beijing itself, the Chinese capital, have also been closed.
More than 22 million people were ordered to stay indoors – twice the number affected last January when the central government in China closed Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first reported, in a move at the time. Considered extraordinary.
The unrest remains small compared to the devastation other countries are facing, but it threatens to undermine the success the country’s Communist Party has achieved in subduing the virus, allowing Its economy To rise again after last year’s recession and its people are returning to something close to it Normal life.
The urgency of the government’s current response contrasts with the response of officials in Wuhan last year Fear backlash If they revealed mysterious new diseases then appeared. There local officials went ahead with a Communist Party conference like the now-canceled conference in Hebei, despite knowing the risk of the disease spreading among the people.
Since Wuhan, the authorities have I created a playbook Which mobilizes party cadres to respond quickly to new outbreaks by closing neighborhoods, conducting widespread testing, and quarantining large groups when needed.
“In the process of preventing and controlling infectious diseases, one of the main points is to seek the truth from the facts, release information about the epidemic openly and transparently and not allow cover-up or non-reporting,” said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a press conference. Friday’s meeting of the State Council, China’s cabinet.
China, which has a population of 1.4 billion, reported an average of 109 new cases per day over the past week, according to New York Times Database. These numbers will be welcome in countries with much worse – including the United States, which has an average of more than 250,000 new cases per day – but the worst in China since last summer.
The Chinese National Health Commission has not reported any new deaths, but the World Health Organization, which is using information from China, has registered 12 So far in 2021. The National Health Commission has not responded to requests to explain the discrepancy.
In Hebei, the province where the new outbreak is concentrated, officials declared last week a “country in wartime” that is showing no sign of lifting it soon.
Throughout the pandemic, officials appeared to be particularly concerned about Beijing, the home of the Communist Party’s central leadership. Last week, Hebei Party Secretary Wang Dongfeng pledged to make sure the province is “a moat to protect Beijing’s political security.”
The outbreak, which came long after with minimal cases, increased anxiety across China, with residents in most places feeling the pandemic was a thing of the past.
New cases have also been reported in northern Shanxi Province and northeastern Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces. Shanghai on Wednesday urged residents not to leave the city and announced that people who have traveled to dangerous areas should isolate themselves at home for two weeks and only leave after passing two tests, while those who have traveled to more dangerous areas face quarantine in government facilities.
In Wuhan, rumors spread that the city may face a new lockdown; While these are completely unfounded, officials have significantly stepped up temperature checks on some streets.
In Shunyi, an area in northeastern Beijing that includes the Beijing Capital International Airport as well as rural villages, residents have been ordered to stay indoors since cases increased before the new year. At major railway stations in Beijing, workers have sprayed public places with disinfectants.
After a taxi driver tested positive over a weekend in Beijing, authorities tracked 144 passengers for additional tests, it said. Global Times, The state tabloid newspaper. Now anyone taking a taxi or auto service in Beijing has to scan a QR code from their phone, allowing the government to quickly track it.
The government has it Go ahead with plans to me Vaccinate 50 million people Ahead of the Lunar New Year next month, a holiday in which hundreds of millions of people traditionally roam the country to visit their families. By Wednesday, more than 10 million doses had been distributed.
Even with vaccinations, officials have already warned people against traveling before the holiday.
“These measures, if well implemented, can ensure that there is no widespread recovery of the epidemic,” said Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, at a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.
While the new restrictions bothered millions, there appears to be little public resistance to them.
“As far as I’m concerned, I think measures like locking down the whole city are really good,” said Zhao Zhengyu, a university student in Beijing who is now at her parents’ house in Shijiazhuang, where she was visiting during this period. Winter holidays when the disease broke out there.
Many in the city feared a repeat of Wuhan’s lockdown, but she appeared unperturbed.
Ms Zhao’s parents now work from home, picking up groceries from the market in their apartment complex. She regretted not being able to meet friends or study in the library, but said that online learning had become a routine.
“We might get used to that,” she said.
The response confirmed how quickly the government could mobilize its resources to contain the outbreak.
After the lockdown was announced in Shijiazhuang on January 6, authorities collected more than 10 million coronavirus test samples over the next three days – nearly one sample per resident, officials said at Press Conference in the city. Those tests showed 354 positive results, although some cases were asymptomatic.
The second round of comprehensive DNA testing began on Tuesday.
“In fact, this is a kind of wartime system – it uses wartime means of social control in peacetime – and during an epidemic, this system works in wartime,” said Chen Min, a former newspaper writer and editor who uses the pseudonym Xiao. Shaw. Mr. Chen was in Wuhan last year when the city closed.
The nature of the country’s governance has given it the tools needed to confront the pandemic – even if some measures seem exaggerated.
“Chinese cities impose a housing system – smaller cities have several hundred residents, large cities have tens of thousands – and by closing the gates you can close tens of thousands of people,” Chen said in a telephone interview. “Now whenever they encounter this kind of problem, they will definitely apply this method. That will be impossible in Western countries.”
Chris Buckley and Keith Bradsher contributed to the reporting. Claire Fu contributed to the research.