Shanghai. The security porter uses a barrier tape to flash the approaching passers-by in front of the IFC Mall: Anyone wishing to enter the luxurious shopping center opposite the iconic “Oriental Pearl Tower” must first present a valid health code on their smartphone and then pass a body temperature camera.
What is an integral part of everyday life in many cities like Beijing is unfamiliar territory for the residents of the liberal metropolis on the Yangtze River. Above all, the newly introduced measures in Shanghai demonstrate that fear of the virus is back in the People’s Republic.
The lung pathogen rages over a thousand kilometers north in Hebei province. In its capital Shijiazhuang, China‘s largest infection cluster to date has long formed, the health authorities reported 115 new infections on Wednesday – more than in five months. The almost 1000 cases since the New Year have also occurred in smaller parts in several cities in the northeast of the country, which increases the risk of uncontrolled spread.
This may not seem like much in an international comparison, but in the temporarily almost virus-free Middle Kingdom, such numbers are causing indignation: Nationwide, more than 28 million residents are now in quarantine at home.
Since then, the authorities have reacted extremely quickly and, above all, drastically. Shizhiajuang is already in “war mode” on Friday and went into a complete lockdown, and high-speed trains through the surrounding province are no longer accepting passengers. The dispatch of medical personnel is also in full swing.
The authorities in Beijing in particular are alarmed: In the capital, the forced quarantine has been increased from two to three weeks in a hotel room allocated by the state when entering from abroad or domestic high-risk areas. In addition, all motorists from outside must pass through nine checkpoints before they can gain access to Beijing. For the first time, it seems possible that China‘s successful fight against the virus could tip over.
The state media are also swearing the population to long-term struggle. In the party newspaper “Global Times” it is said that in the next few days “new outbreaks will most likely be triggered”. On the one hand, this has to do with the fact that the current cases are caused by a newer strain of the virus, which is significantly more infectious than the original variant from Wuhan.
In addition, with the conventional, extremely successful strategy, China has done well with it when it comes to containing clusters of infections in urban districts. But with the current situation there is a hitherto new type of danger, namely the unnoticed contagion in village communities, which the authorities can only detect with a long delay. In many sparsely populated areas, for example, there are hardly any facilities for corona tests. Asymptomatic infected people in particular are practically impossible to detect in a timely manner.
It is already becoming apparent that the Chinese New Year will also be canceled in 2021. The holidays begin on February 12, when around half of the 1.4 billion Chinese people travel to their families. This year the government has already issued a voluntary travel warning that could soon become a mandatory ban. State-owned company employees have been urged to cancel their family visits – and many private company employees are likely to follow suit.
At the same time, during this critical time for China, a WHO mission is expected on Thursday to investigate the controversial question of the origin of the virus. In view of the tense situation in China, the scientists from abroad will have to be quarantined for the first time after arriving in Wuhan after arriving from Singapore.