(BEIJING) #Coronavirus Report: Latest outbreak two weeks ago in Nanjing is spreading #Delta variant rapidly and it testing their vaccine efficacy as massive testing underway #AceHealthDesk report

#AceHealthReport – Aug.02: The latest outbreak started two weeks ago in the eastern city of Nanjing, where nine airport cleaners were found to be infected during a routine test. Since then, the cluster has spread to at least 26 cities across China, including a tourist hot spot in the southern province of Hunan and the capital Beijing.

#CoronavirusNewsDesk says China’s hardline zero #COVID19 strategy is facing a fresh challenge from the rapid spread of the Delta variant, amid concerns over the efficacy of Chinese vaccines against the highly contagious strain …..with more than 300 cases have been detected within a span of 10 days.

BBC Asia: Delta Variant Beijing

The Delta variant, which appears to cause more severe illness and spreads as easily as chickenpox according to an internal document from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has wreaked havoc across the world. Now, it is causing China’s worst outbreak in months.China reported 328 local Covid-19 infections in July, close to the total from the previous five months, according to the National Health Commission. Although that’s only a fraction of the cases reported in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, it is perceived as a serious threat in China, where authorities attempt to keep local infections at zero.

China Covid: Concerns grow as Delta outbreak spreads as a fresh #COVID19 outbreak in China has spread to more locations, raising concerns in local media over the country’s vulnerability to the highly contagious Delta variant.

A medical worker collects swab from a resident for nucleic acid testing at dawn
Authorities in China are testing millions of people after an outbreak spread to 18 provinces

Local headlines have been dominated by news on the outbreak, and the country’s top respiratory diseases specialist has reportedly expressed grave concern.

The government has imposed fresh travel restrictions and is testing millions.

It is unclear how many in China are fully vaccinated, although authorities say more than 1.6 billion doses have been administered so far.

A total of 15 provinces and municipalities have now confirmed cases, of which 12 are connected to an outbreak that began in Nanjing in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. Authorities have attributed the spread to the Delta variant and the domestic tourist season.

Although case numbers are considerably lower than other places, it is considered the largest outbreak in months in China, a country that was largely successful in controlling the virus within its borders last year.

Cases first emerged in July in Nanjing airport, among workers who had cleaned a plane that arrived from Russia.

Authorities promptly tested 9.2 million residents of Nanjing and imposed lockdown on hundreds of thousands of people.

But over the weekend the spotlight turned to popular tourist destination Zhangjiajie in central Hunan province, where many of the latest cases have emerged. Travellers from Nanjing were thought to have visited the city recently.

Health officials have zeroed in on a theatre in Zhangjiajie, and are now trying to track down about 5,000 people who attended performances and then travelled back to their home cities. 

One performance alone had hosted about 2,000 people, according to reports. 

All attractions in Zhangjiajie have been closed and tourists are being asked to take a Covid test before leaving the city, local media reported.

“Zhangjiajie has now become the new ground zero for China’s epidemic spread,” Zhong Nanshan, China’s leading respiratory disease expert, told reporters.

The new outbreak has reached Beijing too, with the city reporting several locally transmitted infections. 

All of Beijing’s air, bus and travel links to areas with positive cases have been cut. All tourists have also been banned from entering the capital, and officials are only allowing “essential travellers” with negative Covid tests to enter.

China is also battling a rise in cases in Zhengzhou in northern Henan province, which saw devastating floods just last month, as well as Hainan island.Drone pictures show the extent of damage as our correspondent reports on the situation on the ground

The Global Times newspaper has called the outbreak the “most serious since Wuhan”, and in a separate editorial criticised “glaring loopholes” in Covid prevention measures.

“It is absolutely worrying if a single flaw can affect many provinces and regions across the country… it shows that our systematic progress in fighting the epidemic needs to be strengthened,” it said.

The outbreak has raised concerns about vaccines, as it emerged that some of those infected had been vaccinated.

Shao Yiming, a researcher with China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Saturday that breakthrough infections in vaccinated people “are expected”.

Sinovac and Sinopharm’s vaccines – two of the most commonly used jabs in China – have been shown to be 50% to 79% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid infection in clinical trials around the world, but are highly effective in preventing hospitalisations or deaths….

Chinese authorities responded swiftly with mass testing, targeted lockdowns, extensive contact tracing and quarantine of close contacts — a tried and tested formula that has helped it quickly tame local flare-ups since March 2020.In Nanjing, a city of 9.3 million people, residents went through threerounds of coronavirus testing in two weeks. Residential compounds with confirmed cases were locked down, while cinemas, gyms, bars and libraries were shuttered. In Zhangjiajie, where a theater performance attended by thousands of people has fueled concerns of a super-spreader event linked to the Nanjing cluster, all tourist destinations were shut down and residents are banned from leaving their compounds.

Restrictions have also been ramped up in Beijing, which reported its first local infection in nearly six months last week. Since then, five local cases with travel history to Zhangjiajie have been detected. The city has banned people from medium- or high-risk areas from entering, suspending flights, trains and buses from Covid-hit places.

Huang Yanzhong, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Chinese authorities are responding to the threat of the Delta variant with the same playbook used in previous outbreaks, but in an even more stringent manner — several cities have been placed under effective lockdowns.

“It shows the problem of diminishing returns of the existing ‘zero-tolerance’ approach,” he said.

Elsewhere in the world, countries with relatively high vaccination rates are increasingly choosing to tolerate a degree of transmission, as long as it doesn’t translate into a surge in hospitalizations and deaths. In China, however, authorities appear intent on imposing strict restrictions despite having administered more than 1.65 billion homegrown vaccine doses — ranking above the US in terms of doses administered per 100 people.

The rapid spread of the Nanjing cluster to cities across the country has triggered concerns over the level of protection currently offered by Chinese vaccines against the Delta variant. On July 22, two days after the Nanjing cluster was first detected, a health expert in the city said the “vast majority” of those infected there had been vaccinated, except for one person under 18 years old. Airport staff, along with medical workers and border control personnel, were among the first to be vaccinated in China. 

Chinese authorities have not offered a fuller breakdown of how many subsequent cases were also vaccinated. 

Several other countries that used Chinese vaccines have also reported infections among vaccinated people. In June, Indonesian officials said more than 350 medical workers in the country had contracted Covid-19 despite being inoculated with vaccines produced by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech. Breakthrough cases have also been reported among people fully immunized with more effective vaccines, such as those produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. In a report released Friday, the US CDC found that about 74% of the 469 Massachusetts residents who were infected in July had been fully vaccinated — with the Delta variant revealed as the main culprit.

Chinese experts have tried to assure the public that Chinese vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant.

On Saturday, Shao Yiming, an expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference that breakthrough infections are a “normal” phenomenon, while stressing that such cases are only a minority among vaccinated people around the world. Feng Zijian, another Chinese health expert, added that while their immunity level against the Delta variant may be lower, existing vaccines still provide good enough prevention and protection.

But Huang, the expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the relatively low efficacy of Chinese vaccines against the Delta variant would only push authorities to double down on their “zero tolerance” containment-based approach as opposed to the mitigation-based method adopted elsewhere.

“That means China is likely still months away from opening its borders to the world,” Huang said.

It remains to be seen if repeated lockdowns and mass testing drives can sustain public support in the long run. Tolerance for such measures could begin to wane if, as expected, the government maintains its hardline approach until after the Beijing Winter Olympics in February next year. 

But some prominent Chinese public health experts have raised the prospect that like elsewhere in the world, China will eventually need to learn to coexist with the coronavirus.

Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert at Shanghai’s Huashan Hospital, said it might not be possible for existing vaccines to eradicate infections, and transmissions might still happen even after everyone is fully vaccinated.”More and more people now believe that the epidemic will not end in a short period of time, and may not end in a long time,” he wrote on Weibo. Whatever path China takes in the future should ensure “its connection to the world, a return to normal life, while at the same time protecting citizens from the fear of the virus,” he added.

SCMP – BBC News — CNN: By Laura He and Paul R. La Monica.

#AceHealthDesk report ……Published: Aug.02: 2021:

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