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China Implemented 'Most' Stringent Measures to Battle Delta Variant Outbreak. Then Why is it Struggling?

People line up for nucleic acid testing at a sports centre in Gulou district, during a citywide mass testing following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nanjing

People line up for nucleic acid testing at a sports centre in Gulou district, during a citywide mass testing following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nanjing

It's one of China's biggest outbreaks since a wave concentrated in the country's northeast saw more than 2,000 infections last winter.

The Delta variant, which has led to fresh global surge of Covid-19, is challenging even China with the most aggressive containment regimes, as economies struggle to open up and return to pre-pandemic life.

The outbreak started at an airport in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing inspite of strict measures taken to control the Coronavirus pandemic. It is to be noted that China is taking zero-tolerance measures to curb the pandemic, a report in Bloomberg said.

The city of Nanjing in eastern China has imposed strict measures and residents have been advised to stay indoors after 31 new cases were reported on Tuesday in the past 24 hours.

The variant, which first emerged in India and is more transmittable than other strains, is exposing the limitations of the strategy of virus elimination.

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Delta Variant behind Fresh Surge

Delta variant is scaling some of the toughest virus defenses, with “Covid Zero" places — countries that had snuffed out the virus within their borders — still seeing outbreaks despite strict anti-virus measures.

New Covid-19 cases are rising by the dozens and seeding subsequent clusters around China despite mass testing and stringent quarantine measures. Beijing also reported its first locally-transmitted infection in six months Thursday, linked to an outbreak in the southern province of Hunan among people who’d recently been to Nanjing.

Delta Variant Becomes Global Problem

Australia is one of the countries hardest hit by the Delta variant. Inspite of the mandatory hotel quarantine the variant is infecting the country which fared very well in the first wave. The delta-fueled outbreak has resulted in new restrictions in Sydney.

Indonesia and US has also seen fresh surge that is being attributing to the Delta variant. US, which had earlier gone away with mask for the vaccinated have reimposed masks following surge. US health agency has reversed its earlier mask protocol for those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, issuing a new guidance issued on Tuesday that recommends the use of face coverings in high-risk areas.

How Recent Infection Began in China

The first infections were among nine airport cleaners in China. The cluster expanded quickly to their close contacts, then to a handful of other locations, leading to nearly 200 confirmed Covid cases as of Thursday. It’s one of China’s biggest outbreaks since a wave concentrated in the country’s northeast saw more than 2,000 infections last winter. Officials have confirmed that the new outbreak is due to Delta variant.

The report said Nanjing is ramping up Covid measures as 18 more cases were added on Thursday. All residential compounds have been placed under lockdown, and the city is starting a third round of virus testing for its more than 9 million people. The airport has canceled most flights and its staff have been placed under restrictions.

Cause for Worry

Many of these infected people in China, who worked at the airport, were fully vaccinated. Only four workers have developed severe cases of the disease. It suggests that though the vaccine is enough to ward off critical illness and death, it is still insufficient to prevent the spread of the variants.

The infected Beijing resident is likely connected to a cluster at an outdoor theatre performance in Hunan, where the audience included infected people who had travelled to Nanjing. It’s the first case of local infection recorded in tightly-guarded Beijing since the start of the year, when an outbreak in nearby Hebei province led to sporadic cases in the Chinese capital.

Booster shots

The efficacy of Chinese vaccines’ ranges between 50 to 80% in studies, which is lower in comparison to 90 percent effectiveness for vaccines develop by Pfizer and Moderna. Countries including Thailand and United Arab Emirates that initially relied on Chinese vaccines have decided to offer booster shots to some fully-vaccinated people to provide better protection against the delta strain.

Sinovac Biotech Ltd, whose vaccine is being used in China’s inoculation campaign, and many other parts of the developing world, said that a third dose of its shot increases antibody levels by three to five times. It added that the third shot will build a stronger case to give booster shots to workers in China at greater risk of contracting the virus.

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first published:July 29, 2021, 14:00 IST