The Communist Party had previously boasted of its success with gratuitous propaganda showing people returning to normal life in restaurants and nightclubs while the rest of the world suffered from the virus which first emerged in Wuhan.
But on Wednesday, China officially recorded 71 new infections – the highest daily figure since January – and with incidences of local transmission and 500 new cases since July, its zero-Covid strategy is on the brink.
The Delta variant is believed to have first infected airport workers in Nanjing but has now spread throughout the colossal country of 1.4 billion people.
Now the tourist hub of Zhangjiajie, famed for its stunning forests and waterfalls, has been identified as a hotspot and residents have been ordered to stay inside their homes and nobody can leave the city.
A boy is swabbed for Covid by a medic wearing full PPE at a testing facility in Yangzhou in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. The city had recorded 126 cases by Tuesday
An official with a loudhailer informs residents of the new Covid-19 infections in Yangzhou
On Wednesday, China officially recorded 71 new infections – the most since January – and with incidences of local transmission and 500 new cases since July, a huge blow to its zero-Covid strategy
Deaths remain low in China but the authorities are concerned about the recent uptick in infections
Retribution for the allegedly lax local officialdom was swift.
The city’s Communist Party disciplinary committee on Wednesday issued a list of local officials who ‘had a negative impact’ on pandemic prevention and control work who would be punished.
Zhangjiajie itself has only recorded 19 cases since last week, three of whom were people with no symptoms, which are counted separately.
However, individual cases linked to Zhangjiajie’s outbreak have spread to at least five provinces, according to local media.
Far higher numbers were reported in Yangzhou, a city next to Nanjing, which had recorded 126 cases by Tuesday.
In Beijing, where the city government reported three new virus cases on Wednesday, authorities blocked entrances to a compound where one of the patients lived, while residents reached over fences to receive parcels from delivery drivers.
Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in 2019, reported its first local infections in over a year this week and said Tuesday it was ‘swiftly launching’ testing of all 11 million residents.
The decree sparked a wave of panic-buying in supermarkets as citizens feared being shuttered in their homes in another draconian lockdown.
Long lines of residents waited at outdoor testing stations in the summer heat, fanning themselves while workers in hazmat suits took throat samples.
The testing has already turned up cases of the highly-infectious Delta variant which was first detected in India.
Panic-buying shoppers stripped bare shelves in supermarkets in Wuhan after authorities announced they will test the the entire city for Covid-19 following the first local infections in more than a year
A worker disinfects the flooring outside the inflated cabins at the pop-up Huo-Yan Laboratory set up in an expo center to test samples for covid-19 virus in Nanjing in east China’s Jiangsu province
Police officers wearing protective gear against the spread of Covid-19 spray disinfectant at Nanjing port
A nurse takes swab samples in the new rounds of Covid-19 testing in Nanjing in eastern China’s Jiangsu province on Monday
China has been hit by what state media are calling the ‘most extensive Covid outbreak since Wuhan’ after cases of the Delta variant escaped border quarantine in Yunnan and an outbreak emerged at an airport in Nanjing
After announcing last week that they were suspending issuing of passports for travellers except those with an urgent need, officials at the National Immigration Administration reiterated the message on Wednesday at a press briefing.
As of Tuesday, China has given more than 1.71 billion vaccine doses to its population of 1.4 billion. It is not clear how many of those are first or both doses, but at least 40% of the population is fully protected, according to earlier announcements.
Chinese companies have not publicly shared real-world data on how effective their vaccines are against the Delta variant, though officials have said the vaccines prevent severe disease and hospital admissions.
In addition to the 71 cases of local transmission, 25 travellers from overseas have Covid-19 and have entered quarantine, making the total for Wednesday 96 new cases.
The National Health Commission also said 15 people tested positive for the virus but have no symptoms.
China has reported 4,636 deaths and 93,289 cases of Covid-19 overall, most of them from the original outbreak in Wuhan that peaked early last year.