Zhang Ying, the deputy director of Tianjin’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Sunday that the detected cases in the city had gone through at “least three generations” of infection, sparking concerns that the virus was spreading undetected.
Wu Feng, head of the intensive care unit at Yangzhou University hospital, told residents to prepare for multiple rounds of testing because of the virus’ incubation period.
“As a result, even when the majority of residents test negative for the virus in earlier rounds of mass testing, it is necessary to launch more tests at the right moment,” Wu said.
The measures have forced millions of people in dozens of districts to rotate through testing centres over the past few days, and cut off non-exempt travel by bus, train and air to the city, as neighbouring Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in three weeks’ time.
Beijing’s traffic management authority said residents should stay away, even if they saw a car crash involving Olympic participants in specially designated cars, warning approaching the visitors could compromise the Olympic coronavirus bubble which will confine 27,000 athletes, officials and media to isolated transport hotels and venues.
The government is expected to maintain its zero-COVID policy for the rest of the year and possibly into 2023 as it prepares for the re-election of President Xi Jinping for a third term in the second half of this year.
The country is the world’s last major COVID-zero policy holdout and one of its top medical experts, Zhong Nanshan, forecast on Thursday that the global death rate would need to fall 10 to 20 times – to 0.1 per cent of cases – for Chinese authorities to consider opening up again.
Johns Hopkins University data shows only Burundi, Bhutan and Iceland have so far managed to achieve such a rate, Australia has recorded a death rate of 0.3 per cent.
The head of the National Health Commission’s COVID-19 taskforce Liang Wannian said China would maintain the “dynamic-zero infections policy” adopted in August.
“Under the overarching goal of preventing imported infections and domestic flare-ups, this policy means that when a new local outbreak occurs, measures will be taken to promptly stem the spread of the virus and clear new infections,” he told China Daily on Monday.
“This approach is the best option and the guiding principle of China’s disease control work. We must resolutely adhere to the policy and protect the health and safety of the population as the top priority.”
HSBC’s chief China economist Qu Hongbin said that COVID continued to pose the main risk to country’s economic growth.
“More than expected cases of COVID-19 at home, especially in light of new variants like Omicron, may hinder the consumption recovery,” he said.