As China gradually emerges from a Covid-19 surge that shut down Shanghai for two months, an outbreak in eastern Anhui Province is posing a new challenge to efforts to balance economic growth with the government’s “zero Covid” policy.
There were more than 200 reported cases in Anhui’s Suzhou city on Monday. Since the outbreak was detected on June 26, the province has reported more than 1,000 cases, according to the Suzhou municipal government.
China had only recently begun to recover from outbreaks in dozens of cities that began in March. In addition to the financial capital of Shanghai, which in June emerged from a two-month citywide lockdown, the tech hub of Shenzhen, and Beijing, China’s capital, were also affected by outbreaks. Shanghai’s Communist Party leader declared last month that the city had defended itself against Covid, and said that this proved that the zero-Covid strategy was correct.
With Covid-control measures taking a toll on the economy, the authorities have recently issued policies aimed at helping business and increasing consumption. The information ministry stopped indicating in travel codes that someone had traveled from a city reporting coronavirus cases, and the National Health Commission cut in half the quarantine period for inbound international travelers to seven days.
But Anhui’s government issued strict orders to stamp out the province’s cases. The Communist Party secretary promised to eliminate transmission outside quarantine centers within a week, and told local government officials that there could be no coronavirus-related deaths or cases among medical workers.
Local governments quickly doubled down on restrictions.
Most of Anhui’s cases were identified in Suzhou’s Si County, where on Wednesday the authorities ordered its 760,000 residents to refrain from going out unless it was necessary. The order came three days after the first cases were detected, and nearly everyone in the county has been tested seven times in the past 10 days, according to the authorities. The municipal government of Suzhou said the county had taken 22,000 people who were deemed close contacts of people who have tested positive to government isolation centers, and residents in dozens of neighborhoods where cases were found were barred from leaving their homes.
Still, cases appear to be spreading beyond Anhui. Suzhou borders Jiangsu, Henan and Shandong Provinces. According to the health authorities in those provinces, more than 300 cases reported in at least a dozen cities in neighboring provinces were linked to the outbreak in Suzhou.
Elsewhere in the country, the government of Xi’an, a city of 13 million people, said Tuesday that it would impose tight restrictions after reporting 18 cases since Saturday. For a week, public facilities, entertainment businesses and schools will be shut down, and dining in restaurants will be banned.