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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Virus testing the new normal as China sticks to ‘zero-Covid’

BEIJING ( Associated Press) – Thousands of COVID-19 testing booths have popped up on sidewalks in Beijing and other Chinese cities in the latest twist of the country’s “zero-Covid” strategy.

Lines form every day, rain or shine, even where the spread of the virus has largely stopped. Some people have to go to work. Others want to buy. Everyone is effectively forced to test by needing to show a negative test result to enter office buildings, malls and other public places.

Liu Lele, who works for a live-streaming company, has no problem getting tested regularly, but he said the day’s hours of operation don’t always fit his schedule.

“Sometimes I get stopped at work,” he said after finishing a trial Thursday near Beijing’s historic bell and drum towers. “I wish the site was open 24 hours or not closed by 7 or 8 PM”

Routine testing of residents is becoming the new normal as the ruling Communist Party sticks steadfastly to the “zero-Covid” approach that is increasingly in line with the rest of the world.

Major cities have been asked to set up testing stations for all residents within a 15-minute walk. Beijing and Shanghai alone have imposed 10,000 or more each. Many of them are surrounded by square booths from which gloved workers reach through openings to take a quick throat swab from the next person in line.

Many cities, including Beijing, require a negative test result within the past three days to enter a public place or take a bus or subway. Some have made it a week or 10 days. The tests are free, with results appearing on the person’s smartphone health app approximately 12 hours later.

“It’s something we must do,” said retired Wang Shiyuan from Beijing, who gets tested every three days when you need to go to the supermarket or take the bus. “When everyone follows the requirements, only then can we reduce the risk of transmission.”

The move comes after a recent outbreak in Shanghai that spread so widely that the authorities locked down the entire city for two months. To put an end to it, trapping millions and giving a blow to the national economy.

China largely kept the virus at bay for a year and a half with targeted lockdowns of buildings and neighborhoods and quarantining infected people, but the fast-spreading Omicron version proved more difficult to stop. More than 580 people died in Shanghai – a large number in a country that reported only a small number of deaths after an initial deadly outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020.

Andy Chen, a senior analyst at Trivium China Consultancy, said the spread of the test sites is a response to the failure of existing measures to control Omicron in Shanghai, although officials have not explicitly said so.

Officials have decided that early detection is needed if they are going to control the Omicron outbreak without extreme measures that cause major economic disruption.

“The routine testing requirements are in place to improve the zero-COVID strategy,” Chen said in an emailed response. “The ultimate goal is to keep the virus under control while avoiding another Shanghai-like lockdown.”

Many other countries, facing populations tired of pandemic restrictions and eager to move on, are betting that rising vaccination rates and the development of treatments for COVID-19 This means they can avoid lockdowns and other disruptive measures and instead live with the virus.

China’s leaders have indicated repeatedly that they believe a “zero-Covid” approach is right for China, even as they are trying to boost a flagging economy. With business tax refund, easy loans and spending on infrastructure projects.

Entry into the country is restricted, visas are difficult to obtain and there are few international flights, making it expensive and difficult to obtain a seat. Anyone who enters has to be quarantined in a hotel, usually for two weeks. The Chinese generally cannot leave the country unless it is for work or study.

Most analysts expect zero-COVID policies to remain in place until after at least one major Communist Party Congress The fall on which leader Xi Jinping is expected to get a third five-year term. The party touted its approach as a success at a time when COVID-19 was ravaging other countries, and did not want a major outbreak for its meeting.


Associated Press researcher Yu Bing and video producers Olivia Zhang in Beijing and researcher Si Chen in Shanghai contributed.

World Nation News Desk
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