Staff: Bengaluru: It is widely known that when the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, the Chinese government downplayed the pandemic threat for several critical weeks.
But now, after clusters of new COVID-19 infections have emerged across the capital of China’s southern Guangdong province, Guangzhou, authorities in China have conveniently blamed the resurgence of cases inside the country and elsewhere in Southeast Asia including Vietnam and Malaysia on India’s ‘slothful response’ to the Indian variant of the virus now named ‘Delta’ by the World Health Organization.
Reflective of China’s nervousness due to the spike in infections in Guangzhou and other nearby cities, China has subsequently stepped up mass testing even in those cities that have yet to report a single case.
According to Chinese officials, a 75-year old Guangzhou resident who dined together with her friends at a dim sum restaurant was the first case of infection of the highly transmissible strain first detected in India.
There is still no clarity about the chain of transmission but according to Global Times (June 4th), for the first time, China is facing the threat of a community transmission of COVID-19 infections in Guangzhou.
Since May 21, the total confirmed case tally in the wider southern Guangdong province of China, has now passed the 120 mark. The province is clearly struggling to contain the spread of the virus. The State Council, in effect China’s cabinet, has even dispatched a special expert team to Guangzhou to study the outbreak and implement virus control measures.
It is not just the provincial capital city of Guangzhou that is worried. Neighboring cities including Foshan, Maoming, as well as tech-hub Shenzhen close to Hong Kong have also reported cases of COVID infections.
According to local media, the situation in Guangzhou is ‘alarming’ and authorities have imposed strict lockdowns.
Strict containment and rigid stay-at-home orders too have been harshly enforced by the authorities. Long queues and large crowds can be seen in various districts of Guangzhou waiting outside inoculation sites, many without appointments.
The surge of infections and fear of community transmission has affected the normal life of the people of the city in a big way.
To prevent the spread of the virus, Guangzhou has now beefed up community and travel restrictions and has also stepped up its nucleic acid testing, epidemiological investigation and the control of key personnel and areas.
For some time, the city even had to suspend its vaccination drive to devote crucial human resources towards mass testing, and those who had been to high-risk areas in the city were asked to get tested at least twice every three days.
Those leaving Guangzhou via its airports, railway stations and bus stations are asked to present negative nucleic acid test results completed within 72 hours, besides green health codes.
Offline classes for schools and colleges have also been suspended.
Due to the restrictions, most inbound and outbound flights at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, the world’s busiest airport during the pandemic in 2020, have been cancelled.
The city has also suspended the operations of cinemas, theatres, KTVs, Internet cafes and other entertainment venues amid rising numbers of new locally transmitted cases and asymptomatic cases turning into confirmed cases.
Seeing the severity of the situation, China has also set up four temporary nucleic acid testing laboratories with the capacity to test 120,000 samples a day in a bid to facilitate mass testing and a roll out of vaccinations for the under -18s as well as postponing the Shanghai Air Expo, for the second consecutive year.
Shanghai, too, has reported COVID infections, triggering a pre-emptive response suspending all COVID-19 vaccination appointments to concentrate medical forces on further mass nucleic acid tests.
According to Jin Dong-yan, a molecular virologist and professor at the University of Hong Kong, the virus was in stealth transmission in Guangzhou for some time before its detection in May, making the outbreak somewhat bigger, though controllable.
As in the past, information on the COVID outbreak is being suppressed and downplayed as the ruling Communist Party’s grand plans to celebrate its upcoming 100th anniversary move forward.
The embarrassment of admitting the disruption and chaos caused by a pathogen born on Chinese soil, and the instinct of Chinese officials to immediately squash bad news are being put to the test.