China tests millions after coronavirus flare- ups in three cities
BEIJING— Chinese authorities are testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and shutting down schools after multiple locally transmitted coronavirus cases were discovered in three cities across the country last week.
As temperatures drop, wide-scale measures are being enacted in Tianjin, Shanghai and Manzhouli, even though the number of new cases remains low compared to the United States and other countries that are seeing new waves of infections.
Experts and government officials have warned that the chance of the virus spreading will be greater in cold weather. Recent flare-ups have shown that there is still a risk of the virus returning, despite being largely controlled within China.
On Monday, the National Health Commission reported two new locally transmitted cases in Shanghai over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to seven since Friday. China has recorded 86,442 cases overall and 4,634 deaths since the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
The two latest cases confirmed in Shanghai were close contacts of another airport worker who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier in November. On Sunday night, the city’s Pudong International airport decided to test its workers, collecting 17,719 samples through the early hours of Monday morning. Plans call for testing others in surrounding communities if further cases are detected.
Videos on social media purportedly from workers showed what appeared to be chaotic scenes at the airport as they were given last-minute orders to get tested. In the videos, people are seen standing in large groups pushing back and forth against officials in hazmat suits.
Shanghai has been more selective with mass testing, targeting people associated with a particular place, such as the airport or the hospital where someone who has tested positive had worked, rather than an entire district.
China has resorted to its heavy, topdown approach each time new cases of local transmission are found— shutting down schools and hospitals, locking down residential communities and entire neighborhoods, and testing millions.
China’s approach to controlling the pandemic has been criticized for being draconian. It locked down Wuhan for more than two months to contain the virus, with the local government shutting down all traffic and confining residents to their homes.
Domestically, however, China has called its strategy “clear to zero” and has boasted of its success.
“In the entire world, only China has the ability to get to zero. Other countries don’t have this ability,” Zeng Guang, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a webinar hosted by Chinese media in September. “It’s not just getting to zero. Even for them to control the first wave of the epidemic is hard.”
About 1 million Americans a day packed airports and planes over the weekend even as coronavirus deaths surged across the U.S. and public health experts begged people to stay home and avoid big Thanksgiving gatherings.
And the crowds are only expected to grow. Sunday is likely to be the busiest day of the holiday period.
To be sure, the number of people flying for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year because of the rapidly worsening outbreak. However, the 3 million who went through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Sunday marked the biggest crowds since mid-March, when the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the United States.
Many travelers are unwilling to miss out on seeing family and are convinced they can do it safely. Also, many colleges have ended their in-person classes, propelling students to return home.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel or spend the holiday with people outside their household.
New cases of the virus in the U.S. have rocketed to all-time highs, averaging more than 170,000 per day, and deaths have soared to over 1,500 a day, the highest level since the spring. The virus is blamed for more than a quarter-million deaths in the U.S. and over 12 million confirmed infections.
“There is so much community transmission all over the United States that the chances of you encountering somebody that has COVID-19 is actually very, very high, whether it’s on an airplane, at the airport or at a rest area,” said Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious disease epidemiologist for New York City hospitals.
The message may be sinking in for some. Bookings in 2020 are down about 60% from this time last year. Thanksgiving reservations were ticking upward in early October but fell back again as case numbers surged. Since airlines have made it easier to cancel tickets, there could be a rash of cancellations closer to the holiday.