(CNN) – Millions of people in Shanghai, China’s beleaguered financial hub, have desperately sought medical care and basic supplies such as food. Parents have been forcibly separated from young children with COVID-19. Residents’ anger is mounting, with no end in sight as the noose tightens on China.
Since March, China has been battling its biggest wave of coronavirus so far, with Shanghai being the biggest source of infection. All 25 million residents are under lockdown, and Chinese health workers and military personnel have been dispatched to bolster the city’s response.
And the country recorded, on Tuesday, more than 20 thousand new cases, much higher than the peak of Wuhan in 2020, at the beginning of the epidemic.
Although this number is still significantly lower than many other countries, it is a significant increase for China, which has adhered to a strict “no spread of the virus” strategy aimed at ending all outbreaks and its chains of transmission through border controls and mass protests Quarantine and strict restrictions.
The sustainability of this policy is now being called into question, as new, highly contagious variants of covid-19 continue to circulate in the population.
Here’s what you need to know about the recent outbreak.
Which parts of China are affected?
In early March, COVID-19 cases began to rise in several provinces across the country, including Shandong in the east, Guangdong in the south, and Jilin in the northeast.
By the end of the month, the virus had spread to 29 of China’s 31 provinces, according to the National Health Commission (NHC). 90% of the cases identified in March came from Jilin and Shanghai, the two largest sources of infection.
Several cities, home to more than 37 million people, were placed under various levels of lockdown in March. Many of those lockdowns were eased in early April, making Shanghai an exception, as authorities struggle to deal with their cases.
So far, only two deaths from Covid have been officially reported during this wave, both in Jilin in March.
What is life like under lockdown?
Shanghai’s measures were expanded and prolonged as the situation deteriorated.
In late March, the Shanghai government denied it had plans to shut down all of the city, even calling the reports “false” and disrupting “social order”. On March 27, the government announced that it would implement a phased lockdown, first in one half of the city and then in the other.
On March 31, the government abandoned its tiered approach and imposed a citywide lockdown on 25 million residents, who were prevented from leaving their neighborhoods except for being tested.
Officials say mandatory testing across the city has seen an increase in cases, prompting them to extend the shutdown until further notice as they “are doing more tests, reviewing results, transmitting positive cases, and looking at the overall coronavirus situation.”
To implement these measures and meet the demands of the completely isolated residents, more than 30,000 doctors and 2,000 military workers have been sent to the city, according to state media and the People’s Liberation Army.
But the restrictions have also sparked an unusual increase in public frustration and criticism of the government, with residents describing difficulties in accessing basic supplies such as food or medicine.
Anger escalated last month after the death of an off-duty nurse in Shanghai, who was turned away from the emergency room at the hospital where she works because it was closed for disinfection. Another resident of Shanghai died after suffering a medical emergency at home before he could reach the hospital.
“We were not killed by the coronavirus, but by virus control measures,” wrote a popular comment on the heavily censored Chinese social media platform Weibo.
There has also been fresh anger over Shanghai’s policy of quarantining all Covid patients in the facility, including young children and infants. One mother told CNN that she separated from her infected two-year-old daughter on March 29, and was not allowed into the isolation ward to stay with her daughter until a week later.
On Monday, the Shanghai Quarantine Center launched a quarantine area for parents and children. On Wednesday, health authorities in Shanghai announced they would adjust the policy, allowing parents with negative test results to request permission to accompany COVID-19-infected children with “special needs”. They did not specify which conditions were described as “special needs”.
Parents who have tested positive for the virus can accompany their children infected with the coronavirus to the quarantine facility.
Which variable is spreading?
Omicron has led to this increase, with cases showing both BA.1 – the original omicron – and other descendant strains being identified, including BA.1.1 and BA.2.
BA.2 was first detected in January, and is now the leading cause of Covid-19 globally and the prevalent strain in the United States, according to the World Health Organization and US health officials.
Since its inception, international case numbers – which have fallen since the first week of January – are back up again.
Studies also indicate that BA.2 is more contagious, although researchers are still studying the severity of this variant. Some epidemiologists say the BCN can be as high as 12, meaning that each sick person infects an average of 12 other people.
This would put it at the same level as measles, which is also spread through the air. The basic copy number of the Library of Alexandria 1 is estimated to be about 8.
Will China continue the zero-Covid strategy?
As the outbreak continues, experts and international observers are speculating whether this wave, the most transmissible variable, and China’s mass vaccination campaign could signal the end of the virus eradication strategy.
As of Friday, about 78% of the country’s 1.4 billion people were fully vaccinated, according to CNS.
Before the outbreak, scientists and leaders hinted that they were re-examining the strategy, with a prominent epidemiologist writing on Weibo in early March that COVID-zero “will not last forever.”
But that now looks like a distant future, as Chinese authorities have made clear that they consider the alternative – the virus spreading across the country, potentially overwhelmed by the health system – as the worst option.
Wu Zunyu, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday that China “will continue to focus on a dynamic COVID-free policy,” according to the state-run Global Times. She added that easing restrictions and opening borders, as is the case in other countries, could “cause many problems such as a decrease in medical resources and an increase in deaths.”
On Monday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said in Shanghai that the city needed a “more determined attitude, more robust measures and more effective coordination” to achieve the complete eradication of the virus.