China sees new COVID-19 outbreaks as Delta variant takes hold
The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, which was first detected in India, is now posing a challenge to China's efforts to contain local COVID-19 outbreaks. The Delta variant (B.1.617.2) is said to be more contagious and dangerous compared to other variants of the virus. The variant is notorious for escaping some of the most stringent virus defenses across the world. Here are more details.
Notably, an outbreak started in Nanjing city from an airport that is now testing China's "zero tolerance" COVID-19 measures. On Thursday, Beijing recorded its first locally-transmitted infections in six months. This case was linked to an outbreak in Hunan among travelers from Nanjing. The first infections in Nanjing were among nine airport cleaners which were followed by infections in their close contacts.
As of Thursday, nearly 200 confirmed infections were reported in the cluster, which is said to be one of the biggest outbreaks in China since the last winter. The Delta variant is behind the latest outbreak, Bloomberg reported citing officials.
In fact, many of these new cases (including the airport workers) involve fully vaccinated persons. Only four people among them developed a severe case of COVID-19. Separately, the case of local transmission in Beijing involves a city resident who is likely connected to a theater performance in Hunan. All 3,000 theater-goers are now at risk of infections, fuelling worry that cases could grow further.
In Nanjing, residential compounds are observing a lockdown while the city has started the third round of COVID-19 testing for its nine million-strong population. Most flights at the city airport stand canceled and restrictions have been imposed on the staff.
The Delta variant has been noted to breach some of the strictest restrictions, which has led to new outbreaks in regions worldwide that had largely eradicated the virus. Australia is among the hardest-hit regions, where even mandatory hotel quarantines are not able to fully contain the variant as well as previous strains. Even in the United States, the variant brought on new mask mandates.
The rise in infections despite containment measures implies that Delta presents a threat to plans to reopen economies and restore daily life. Further, it highlights that while the vaccines prevent serious cases and deaths, they are failing to significantly limit transmission. China's new outbreaks are putting pressure on officials to reconsider its vaccination campaign and perhaps include booster shots.
China—which is running the world's fastest vaccination drive—is a month away from inoculating 75% of its 1.4 billion-strong population. Studies show that China's vaccines prevent symptomatic COVID-19 in 50-80% of those inoculated. Vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. said on Wednesday that a third vaccine dose boosts antibody levels three to five times. Meanwhile, China may reportedly approve Pfizer-BioNTech's mRNA vaccine.