China has largely kept the coronavirus at bay since 2020, but officials there are going to ever more extreme lengths to quell outbreaks that have proliferated around the country in recent weeks.
A growing number of people are finding their lives suddenly upended as a result.
At least 20 million people in three cities were under full lockdown as recently as last week, and many more cities across the country have been subjected to partial lockdowns and mass testing. During the past month, at least 30 major Chinese cities have reported locally transmitted Covid cases.
The case numbers themselves are minuscule by global standards, and no Covid deaths have been reported in China’s current wave. On Friday, the health authorities reported a total of 23 new locally transmitted cases in five cities.
But many cases have involved the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and with each passing day, the government’s dogged pursuit of “zero Covid” is looking harder to achieve. Many wonder how long it can be maintained without causing widespread, lasting disruptions to China’s economy and society.
“At this point, it’s really almost like a last-ditch, or certainly very stubborn and persistent, effort to stave off the virus,” said Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. “They are really stuck.”
The urgency to extinguish nascent outbreaks is now heightened because the Winter Olympics are set to open in Beijing in two weeks. As of Friday, 24 locally transmitted cases had been discovered in the city’s latest coronavirus wave.