China battles multiple outbreaks, driven by stealth omicron

  • A medical worker takes a swab sample from a child for COVID-19 testing Monday in a community in Changzhou in eastern China's Jiangsu province. (Chinatopix via AP)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China banned most people from leaving a coronavirus-hit northeastern province and mobilized military reservists Monday as the fast-spreading “stealth omicron” variant fuels the country’s biggest outbreak since the start of the pandemic two years ago.

The National Health Commission reported 1,337 locally transmitted cases in the latest 24-hour period, including 895 in the industrial province of Jilin. A government notice said that police permission would be required for people to leave the area or travel from one city to another.

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The hard-hit province sent 7,000 reservists to help with the response, from keeping order and registering people at testing centers to using drones to carry out aerial spraying and disinfection, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Hundreds of cases were reported in other provinces and cities along China’s east coast and inland as well. Beijing, which had six new cases, and Shanghai, with 41, locked down residential and office buildings where infected people had been found.

“Every day when I go to work, I worry that if our office building will suddenly be locked down then I won’t be able to get home, so I have bought a sleeping bag and stored some fast food in the office in advance, just in case,” said Yimeng Li, a Shanghai resident.

While mainland China’s numbers are small compared to many other countries, and even the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, they are the highest since COVID-19 killed thousands in the central city of Wuhan in early 2020. No deaths have been reported in the latest outbreaks.

Hong Kong on Monday reported 26,908 new cases and 249 deaths in its latest 24-hour period. The city counts its cases differently than the mainland, combining both rapid antigen tests and PCR test results.

The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, said authorities would not tighten pandemic restrictions for now. “I have to consider whether the public, whether the people would accept further measures,” she said at a press briefing.

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