China Must Reckon With Possible Omicron Upsurge
The Chinese city of Xian is in full lockdown. More than 13 million people are confined to their homes with windows closed as the city sprays disinfectant and conducts mass testing amid a burst of COVID-19 cases.
Photo Insert: Workers at the Sinovac manufacturing facility
The 150 local cases reported for Sunday are a tiny number compared with those in the rest of the world; in a nation that has successfully maintained a “zero COVID” policy since hosting the initial outbreak though, they represent a potential disaster, James Palmer, a deputy editor at Foreign Policy, wrote.
It’s not clear whether the Xian cases are of the omicron variant, but it’s reasonably likely, given they’ve spread more quickly than any other outbreak in China since the initial Wuhan spread was contained. Whether China can hold the fort against an opponent moving more quickly than ever is a big question, he added.
Some of the Western coverage has had a gloating tone, as if China’s COVID-19 success is finally going to be pulled down to earth. But with hundreds of thousands of lives potentially at stake, how well the system handles omicron will shape a lot of China’s—and the world’s—2022.
One scenario is that omicron is so transmissible—almost as quickly spreading as measles—that China’s precautions simply can’t hold against it, no matter how extensive a moat of quarantine Chinese leaders put around the country.
At some point, the virus escapes its containment and then spreads swiftly and widely enough that even China’s ultra-strict lockdowns are unable to stamp it out. Over the course of the coming months under this scenario, omicron case numbers grow to the millions or tens of millions.