China is grappling with its largest surge of infections since the coronavirus first emerged there more than two years ago. The government is racing to impose strict containment measures, but sustained outbreaks in two-thirds of the country’s provinces are the toughest test yet of its “Covid zero” policies.
Global commerce may soon take a hit. Several of China’s largest factory cities have ordered lockdowns or imposed new restrictions, halting production of Toyota cars and Apple phones.
Shenzen, the hub of China’s tech sector and one of the world’s largest ports, imposed a weeklong lockdown, limiting all but the most essential movement. Last spring, an outbreak there held up port operations and caused a steep increase in global shipping rates that helped drive up prices for imported goods.
Particularly in southern China, many have reacted by blaming nearby Hong Kong, where an epidemic has overwhelmed hospitals and morgues. The city has said it doesn’t have the testing capacity to carry out the mainland’s strict strategy.
The Omicron variant is fueling the outbreak. China has a very high vaccination rate, except among the elderly, and little more than half of infected people do not have symptoms. China has comparatively far fewer intensive care hospital beds than most industrialized countries, and rural hospitals in particular could quickly become overwhelmed.
In enforcing the lockdowns, officials will seal, for example, entrances to a store, office building or even convention center in response to a single case, trapping everyone inside for up to several days until they are tested and, if their results are positive, sent into isolation.