China finds new Covid-19 subtype as daily cases exceed 13,000

China is among the last remaining places adopting a zero-Covid-19 approach to the pandemic. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - The number of Covid-19 infections has hit a new high in China since the early days of the pandemic in 2020, with a new mutation of the Omicron variant recorded in eastern Jiangsu province. 

The National Health Commission reported on Sunday (April 3) 13,146 Covid-19 cases, including 11,691 asymptomatic infections, with Shanghai as the epicentre of China’s worst outbreak. 

China’s financial hub, which reported 8,226 cases, including 7,788 asymptomatic ones, is carrying out citywide antigen testing on Sunday and mass nucleic acid testing on Monday on its 25 million residents.

On Saturday, Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan, China’s top official overseeing pandemic control, travelled to Shanghai to inspect the mega city’s Covid-19 controls, and said makeshift hospitals and facilities for Covid-19 treatment must be expanded.

Ms Sun, who was in north-eastern Jilin province earlier to battle outbreaks there as well, urged “solid efforts to curb the Covid-19 spread in Shanghai in the shortest time possible”, vowing an “unswerving adherence” to China’s dynamic-zero policy, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.

Jilin province had 4,455 cases, including 3,499 asymptomatic infections, on Saturday.

Officials in Suzhou in Jiangsu province have also detected a mutation of the Omicron variant not found in local or international databases, state media Global Times reported on Sunday.

It evolved from the BA.1.1 branch of the Omicron variant but little else, including its potency, is known, the report added, citing sequencing data from the local health authorities. 

The entire city of Shanghai is effectively under lockdown, after infection rates remained stubbornly high and a first-stage lockdown was extended. 

Currently, residents in Shanghai are looking to April 5 as the next date for their lockdown to be lifted, although it remains unclear if the number of infections would have subsided by then.

The authorities had previously dismissed a citywide lockdown for fear of destabilising economic growth, but appeared to change tack when the number of infections did not subside by April 1, when the first phase of the lockdown was supposed to be lifted. 

The snap lockdown, which was announced on March 27, had raised fears of food shortages in Shanghai, after worried residents who would be affected by the second phase of the lockdown snapped up fresh produce and caused long queues at supermarkets before their turn started on April 1. 

Reports of parents being separated from their infected children and the sick being denied medical access have also sparked public outrage, with many netizens going online to air their grievances with the city’s harsh controls.

Video footage of Shanghai residents protesting against the prolonged lockdown by chanting behind the gates of residential estates, asking for the restrictions to be lifted, has reportedly been scrubbed off WeChat, China’s most popular social messaging app.

A worker in protective gear standing next to barriers during lockdown in Jing'an district, in Shanghai, on March 31, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

The French consulate in Shanghai has represented European Union countries and its Norwegian and Swiss counterparts to appeal to the Shanghai government to not separate parents and children under any circumstance, and to provide their citizens with medical assistance during the lockdown if required, among other requests, according to an internal document dated March 31 seen by The Straits Times and verified by the EU chamber of commerce in Shanghai. 

Investment banker Chloe Fang told ST that it was impossible trying to get a confirmed delivery date for groceries and toiletries she ordered almost two weeks ago. 

The delivery date has been extended twice to April 6 and then recently again to April 8, she said, adding that she has been under lockdown since March 28, and that her food supplies are running low. 

Mr Eric Tay, global services manager at telco giant Vodafone, said he had gone out to queue for daily necessities at three marts, and upgraded his Internet speed from 200Mbps to 500Mbps - days in advance - to prepare for the lockdown. 

Mr Tay, who lives in Puxi, went into lockdown on March 30, which was earlier than the expected date of April 1, due to a case in his apartment compound. 

There was only a 10-minute warning before his building was sealed, said Mr Tay, a Singaporean who has lived in Shanghai for nine years. “Luckily I prepared early (for the lockdown). If I waited until the last day, I would be done for.”

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