July 27, 2021

How has China avoided a coronavirus second wave?

Europe is the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic once again, with the number of daily infections doubling in the past 10 days as a second wave hits. But China has avoided a second wave.

The question is why? The answer is that its authorities, after being overwhelmed in Wuhan, have fine-tuned an emergency response for surprise cluster outbreaks.

Many subsequent waves of infection have emerged in China, a country of 1.4 billion people and nearly 40 times the size of the UK. Cases have cropped up across the country, as far apart as in the south along the border to Vietnam, and in the north near Russia.

Even in Beijing, the capital – where social distancing and quarantine requirements have been the most stringent in order to protect the ruling Communist Party elite – the coronavirus managed to spread rapidly and infect hundreds in June.

Each time, the Chinese state has rolled out the same programme. Health officials have rushed to test millions of people within days – asking the public to visit large outdoors spaces, such as repurposed stadiums, or by sending workers door-to-door to swab residents.

In some instances, officials have tested a handful of samples together to save time, going back to test individually if necessary to pinpoint infections.

Those testing positive have been isolated and treated, with their close contacts quarantined at home or in government facilities. Again, shops, restaurants and other public facilities have been shut down, including the source of the outbreak.

The entire province of Xinjiang – itself seven times the size of the UK – locked down even though infections were largely clustered in the local capital of Urumqi. Residents complained of draconian restrictions, such as heavy iron bars across their doors, locking them at home.

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