| 25 February 2024, Sunday |

China ends 2021 with worst COVID week since taming original epidemic

Despite an arsenal of some of the world’s harshest COVID-19 measures, China concluded the last week of 2021 with the highest number of local coronavirus cases for any seven-day period since containing the country’s first outbreak nearly two years ago.

The National Health Commission reported 175 additional community infections with proven clinical symptoms for the week ending December 31, increasing the total number of local symptomatic cases in mainland China to 1,151.

An epidemic in the northern industrial and tech powerhouse of Xian, a metropolis of 13 million people, has fueled the increase.

The spreading outbreak in Xian is expected to strengthen officials’ commitment to stop transmissions as soon as cases appear. Since Dec. 9, the city, which has been under lockdown for ten days as of Saturday, has registered 1,451 local symptomatic cases, the most of any Chinese city in 2021.

While China’s case count is small in comparison to many other epidemics across the world, preventing severe flare-ups in 2022 will be critical. The Winter Olympic Games will be held in Beijing in February, and the governing Communist Party will convene its once-every-five-years conference in the fall, at which President Xi Jinping is anticipated to win a third term as party secretary.

The emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant will also drive Beijing to stick to its high vigilance against the virus. China has reported a handful of imported Omicron cases and at least one locally transmitted case.

Since August, China has tried to get any outbreak under control within about two weeks, much shorter than the four to six weeks in earlier battles against sporadic flare-ups following the initial nationwide epidemic, according to the National Health Commission.

Cities along China’s borders are at higher virus risk, either due to the presence of overland transport links or entry of infected travelers from other countries. Some were hit by Delta outbreaks that resulted in harsh travel curbs last year.

Yunnan, which shares a border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, reported new local symptomatic cases on 92 out of 365 days last year, or 25% of the time, more often than any other province, autonomous region or municipality.


The Xian outbreak, which led to cases in other cities including Beijing, could be traced back to a flight arriving from Pakistan, but it was unclear how it spread to local communities.

Many people have been forbidden from leaving their residential compounds, but a city government official said on Friday curbs would be loosened in less risky compounds when the time was right.

Postgraduate student Li Jiaxin, 23, said nobody can leave the campus of her university. She spent New Year’s Eve with her three room mates and was unable to meet with her boyfriend and family.

“I may be what you would consider a person with a strong sense of ritual, so I still feel a little sad that we are not together at this time,” she said.


China’s tough epidemic policies have helped stop its sprawling industrial sector from sliding into prolonged shutdowns, reaping important export gains as other pillars of growth weakened.

But unpredictable disruptions have shaken consumer sentiment and hammered the catering, hospitality and tourism sectors.

An employee surnamed Wang at a traditional teahouse in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, said her company’s revenues had been halved compared with pre-pandemic levels.

“Many guests from other provinces had came to our teahouse specially for a taste of Yunnan’s pu’er tea, but now there are fewer of them,” Wang said.

“My salary hasn’t been cut, but I feel I may lose my job at any time.”

  • Reuters