China continues offensive against the spread of Omicron BA.2 subvariant

For the past three weeks, mainland China has been attempting to suppress an outbreak of coronavirus subvariant Omicron BA.2 that is concentrated in Jilin province, but has spread to much of the country. During that time, the official data from the National Health Commission (including both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases originating inside the country) show fewer than 35,000 cases and only 2 deaths.

Over those same three weeks in Hong Kong, there have been 830,000 recorded cases and at least 5,200 deaths. Worldwide, there were just under 33.5 million cases and more than 127,000 deaths.

A woman holds a floral bouquet during an official memorial was held for victims of coronavirus in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Saturday, April 4, 2020. With air raid sirens wailing and flags at half-mast, China held a three-minute nationwide moment of reflection to honor those who have died in the coronavirus outbreak. [AP Photo/Ng Han Guan]

The sharp contrast between coronavirus cases and deaths in Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as between China and the rest of the world, is a demonstration of the deadly differences between a policy of “living with COVID-19” and fighting for a “Zero-COVID” policy.

The outbreaks in China remain centered in Jilin, located in the northeastern part of the country, including 1,494 new cases yesterday. Residents of the province have undergone several rounds of mass testing, those found to be infected are isolated under medical supervision, and lockdowns of schools and nonessential businesses for an estimated 51 million people have been imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

Chinese officials have mobilized an immense amount of resources to contain the outbreak, treating as a major emergency figures that would be hailed as “progress” in any American state. In a press conference Thursday, Wang Hesheng, Deputy Director of the National Health Commission, noted that “the national overall testing capacity has exceeded 40 million … per day.”

Hesheng continued, “The epidemic in Hong Kong has taught us a particularly profound lesson, and it is also an example that if the vaccination rate of the elderly is low, the mortality rate of severe cases will be high.” One of the further responses to the current outbreak in China is a renewed drive to vaccinate the elderly, particularly in rural areas where vaccination rates are relatively low.

He also stated that, “China’s anti-epidemic practice shows that adhering to ‘dynamic zero clearance’ is the epidemic defense line that our country with a population of more than 1.4 billion must currently defend, which is the best practice of the concept of people first and life first, and also the greatest contribution to the international fight against the [pandemic].”

The ability to maintain such a policy, however, has been challenged above all by the continued circulation of the coronavirus and emerging variants around the globe, including Omicron. In the weeks leading up to the current wave, often half or more of cases detected in a given day were imported from outside the country, the highest proportion since the start of the pandemic.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), during the ongoing wave of infections from Omicron, first its BA.1 subvariant and increasingly BA.2, an estimated more than 2 billion people have been infected worldwide since last November. In effect, the virus has had over 2 billion opportunities to mutate and evolve into an even more transmissible and deadly variant, which could emerge at any point.

China also faces growing pressure to abandon its Zero-COVID policy by Western policymakers and the corporate media. The New York Times complained that “lockdowns could wipe out the already razor-thin profits of many factories.” In an attempt to overcome these economic losses, Reuters reports that companies such as Apple supplier Foxconn and Tesla are forcing workers to eat, sleep and work on site in order to maintain production quotas.

Much was also made about the two deaths that were reported on Saturday, while the fact that these were the first two deaths reported from the pandemic in almost two years was only noted in passing. In contrast, the total number of deaths on a given day in just the United States alone, which was more than 1,000 a day less than a week ago, is not mentioned at all in the American media.

A March 11 report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, makes clear the immense danger of the reopening of China being called for from outside the country. The study focused on models developed using data collected from Guangdong province in 2011 and measured the impact of removing non-pharmaceutical interventions (testing, isolation, lockdowns) from efforts to contain the virus. In the “coexistence” scenario reported, the same as what exists outside China, the study notes that there could be an estimated 12.9 million cases and 121,000 deaths in Guangdong alone in just one year.

Extrapolated to the rest of China, the findings of the study indicate that the scrapping of Zero COVID could cause roughly 1.35 million deaths from COVID-19 in the rest of 2022 alone. In other words, the call by the Times and its ilk to protect profits is in reality a call for the mass infection and death of the Chinese population.

Alongside demanding such a slaughter, Western media outlets have essentially stopped reporting coronavirus cases and deaths in their own countries. The coronavirus tracker of the Times and the Guardian are both “below the fold” while that of the Washington Post has been reduced to a link. Last week the Times cut back its newsletter to subscribers of updates on the pandemic from once a day to every other day, supposedly because this coverage had become less urgent. Headlines are instead dominated by hypocritical denunciations of the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine.

No mention is made of the daily death toll in the United States, frequently over 1,000, or the more than 5,000 dying each day worldwide. If the virus is mentioned at all, it is to claim that the current wave is over and that even basic protections such as masks should be permanently done away with.

The spread of BA.2, however, is already reversing the decline in case numbers in country after country. The more transmissible subvariant of Omicron has already spread across most of the world and has become or will become soon the dominant variant of the virus where it exists. The United States CDC reports that BA.2 already comprises at least 38 percent of current cases in the Northeast and roughly 23.1 percent of cases across the country. The percentage of cases that are determined to be BA.2 has been doubling every week for the past four weeks.

A similar trend was witnessed in the weeks before the surge of the Omicron variant. In response, the Biden administration worked diligently to dismantle the last vestiges of coronavirus mitigation measures, including closing down testing stations, obscuring COVID-19 death reporting and promoting the delusions that masks are largely unnecessary and that schools can be reopened safely. In just four months, an estimated 200,000 people have died, including hundreds of children.