China’s Covid outbreak grows as it sees a fourth day of new locally transmitted cases including in 2022 Winter Olympics host city Beijing as officials scramble to hunt down carriers
- Frantic contact tracing is now afoot as Communist Party seeks to stamp out virus
- 17 new domestic cases were recorded for Oct. 19 – increase of 9 on day before
- China is operating a strict zero-Covid strategy which does not tolerate spread
- Comes amid concerns an outbreak could threaten the Winter Games in February
China’s Covid outbreak grew for a fourth consecutive day on Wednesday as several cities recorded new locally transmitted cases.
Frantic contact tracing is now afoot as Communist Party officials seek to stamp out the disease amid concerns it could threaten the 2022 Winter Olympics in February.
Seventeen new domestic cases were officially reported for October 19, an increase of nine from the day before, despite the country’s strict adherence to a zero-Covid strategy which does not tolerate any viral spread.
Although Beijing’s Covid statistics are notoriously dubious, the fact they are deciding to inform the public of the surge in cases could be seen as a telling sign they want people on high alert.
A resident undergoes a nucleic acid test for the Covid-19 coronavirus in Xian in China’s northern Shaanxi province on Wednesday
The new cases were reported in eight cities and administrative divisions, more than four for October 18, the bulk of which were in northern and northwestern China.
Three separate cases were also reported in recent days in the south and southwest of China.
Among the cases was one in the capital city Beijing, which is busy gearing up for its hosting of the Winter Games, where officials vowed stringent efforts against the virus.
Almost half of the 26 local cases found on Monday and Tuesday were of close contacts of an elderly couple who had travelled in the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu and the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia before being confirmed as Covid-19 patients on Sunday.
It remains unclear whether the married couple were the source of the outbreak, or where they had contracted the virus.
After the couple’s travel history was disclosed, many cities scrambled to trace their close contacts, requiring people who had been to places where those with detected cases had travelled to report to local authorities and get tested.
The city of Jiayuguan in northwestern Gansu province even launched its second round of city-wide testing after an initial round yielded no positive results, following reports that some of those with cases recently visited the city.
Officials have not disclosed how those with cases reported on Monday and Tuesday contracted the virus, but tentative signs indicated there might be multiple sources of the virus across China, which could complicate the country’s efforts to seek zero infections.
Three out of the five local cases found this week in Erenhot city, in Inner Mongolia, did not appear to have any connection with infected travellers in other cities, but were linked to a case detected on October 13, a person who worked at a local logistics hub. It is unclear how this person was infected.
Communist Party Secretary of Beijing, Cai Qi, lights the cauldron during the Olympic flame welcoming ceremony ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, in the lobby of the Olympic Tower in Beijing on Wednesday
The great cover-up of China: Beijing punished Covid whistleblower, claimed it came from US and ‘lied about death figures’
China has lied and covered up key information during virtually every stage of its coronavirus response – from the initial outbreak to the number of cases and deaths, observers, experts and politicians have warned.
Beijing initially tried to cover up the virus by punishing medics who discovered it, denying it could spread person-to-person and delaying a lockdown of affected regions – meaning early opportunities to control the spread were lost.
Then, once the virus began spreading, the Communist Party began censoring public information about it and spread disinformation overseas – including suggesting that US troops could have been the initial carriers.
Prominent politicians have cast doubt on the country’s official cases and deaths figures, with local whistleblowers saying the true tolls are likely to be far higher.
Doctors in China, including Li Wenliang, began reporting the existence of a new type of respiratory infection similar to SARS in early December 2019.
But rather than publicise the reports and warn the public, Chinese police hauled Wenliang and eight of his colleagues in for questioning.
Wenliang, who would later die from the virus, was forced to sign a document ‘confessing’ that the information he published was false.
Despite the WHO being quick to praise China’s lockdowns, evidence suggests that the country could have acted much quicker.
Dr Li Wenliang, one of the first Chinese medics to report the existence of the new coronavirus, was forced by police to confess to spreading false data. He later died from the virus
Virus samples analysed as early as December 26 suggested a new type of SARS was circulating, the Washington Post reported, but Wuhan was not locked down until January 22 – almost a month later.
Wuhan’s mayor also admitted an error that allowed 5million people to travel out of the city before the lockdown came into place without being checked for the virus, likely helping it to spread.
Chinese authorities have also been unwilling or unable to identify ‘patient zero’ – or the first person known to have contracted the virus.
While Beijing claims the first infection took place on December 8, researchers have traced the virus back to at least December 1 and anecdotal evidence suggests it was spreading in November.
A lack of information about the first patient has meant scientists are still unclear how the disease made the leap from animals into humans.
A widely-panned WHO report published early in 2021 said the virus likely started in bats, moved into an unknown intermediary animal, and then infected humans.
Chinese authorities initially reported that the virus could not spread person-to-person, despite evidence that it was spreading rapidly through the city of Wuhan including doctors being infected by patients.
This was used as justification for keeping the city of Wuhan operating as normal through a major CCP conference that was held between January 11 and 17, with authorities claiming zero new cases in this period.
China did not confirm human-to-human transmission of the virus until late January, when large parts of Hubei province including Wuhan were put into lockdown.
Despite reporting the existence of a ‘novel type of pneumonia’ to the World Health Organisation on December 31, Wuhan’s largest newspaper also made no mention of the virus until the week of January 20.
That meant people in the city were not taking precautions such as social distancing to stop it spreading.
It also meant that people had begun travelling for the Lunar New Year holiday, which was due to start on January 24, spreading the virus further.
Authorities in Beijing were also slow to report the deaths of two doctors from the virus, including one who was killed on January 25 but whose death was not reported by state media until a month later.
The market was shut on January 1 after dozens of workers there had contracted the disease
Origin of the virus
Despite early admissions that the virus began in the city of Wuhan, China later back-tracked – even going so far as to suggest American troops had brought the infection over after visiting the province.
Lijian Zhao, a prominent official within the Chinese Foreign Ministry, tweeted out the claim on March 12 while providing no evidence to substantiate it.
‘When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals,’ he wrote.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused American military members of bringing the coronavirus to Wuhan
Referencing a military athletics tournament in Wuhan in October, which US troops attended, he wrote: ‘It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!’
In fact, America’s ‘patient zero’ was a man who travelled from China to Washington State on January 15. The case was confirmed by the CDC six days later.
Zhao has gone on to push a number of other conspiracies suggesting the virus may have originated in other countries such as India or Italy.
In the case of Italy, he did so by distorting a quote from an Italian doctor who suggested the country’s first cases could have occurred much earlier than originally thought.
Zhao spread the theory in a tweet, while providing no evidence to back it up
Giuseppe Remuzzi said he is investigating strange cases of pneumonia as far back as December and November, months before the virus was known to have spread outside of China.
Chinese state media then widely reported his comments while suggesting that the virus could have originated in Europe.
In fact, Remuzzi says, there can be no doubt it started in Wuhan – but may have spread out of the province and across the world earlier than thought.
China had reported a total of 96,000 cases of Covid and 4,500 deaths from the virus as-of September 2021 – one of the lowest totals of any major nation.
But serious doubt has been cast over the figures, not least because Beijing often does not count asymptomatic cases – i.e. cases with no symptoms – as part of its totals.
Symptomatic cases which were not confirmed with a test were also not counted, a move that almost-certainly led to under-reporting of cases in the early stages when kits were scarce.
Meanwhile foreign governments have heaped scorn on China’s infection reporting cannot be trusted.
Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican senator and former presidential candidate from the US, tweeted that ‘we have NO IDEA how many cases China really has’ after the US infection total passed Beijing’s official figure.
‘Without any doubt it’s significantly more than what they admit to,’ he added.
The UK government has also cast doubt on China’s reporting, with Conservative minister and former Prime Ministerial candidate Michael Gove claiming the Communist Party could not be trusted.
‘Some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this [virus],’ he told the BBC.
Meanwhile sources told the Mail that China’s true infection total could be anything up to 40 times as high as reports had suggested.
Marco Rubio, a prominent Republican senator, has said that China’s figures cannot be trusted and a far higher than has been reported
Doubt has also been cast on China’s reported death toll from the virus, which currently stands at around 4,500.
Locals in epicenter city Wuhan have been keeping an eye on funeral homes since lockdown restrictions were partly lifted, claiming they have been ‘working around the clock’ to dispose of bodies.
China has reported 3,300 deaths from the virus, but social media users in Wuhan have suggested the toll could be in excess of 42,000
Social media posts estimate that 3,500 urns are being handed out by crematoriums each day, while Caixin reports that one funeral home in the city placed an order for 5,000 urns.
Locals believe that efforts to dispose of the bodies began March 23 and city authorities have said the process will end on or around April 5.
That would mean roughly 42,000 urns handed out in that time frame, ten times the reported figure.
Chinese aid packages
As it brought its own coronavirus epidemic under control and as the disease spread across the rest of the world, China attempted to paint itself as a helpful neighbour by sending aid and supplies to countries most in need – such as Italy.
In fact, while the Chinese Red Cross supplied some free equipment to the Italians, the country purchased a large amount of what it received.
Meanwhile officials in Spain said that a batch of coronavirus testing kits bought from China had just 30 per cent reliability – unlike the 80 per cent they were promised.
China has said it is willing to help supply the world with much needed aid and supplies, but has been accused of hoarding protective equipment and selling test kits that don’t work
China is also the world’s largest manufacturer of disposable masks of the kind being worn to slow the spread of the virus by people while out in public.
But as the disease began gathering speed in the country in January, China began limiting exports of the masks while also buying up supplies from other countries, the New York Times reported.
As well as halting virtually all exports of masks, China also bought up some 56million masks and respirators from overseas while fears of a pandemic were still far off.
Despite reports from US mask manufacturers of factories in Shanghai being effectively nationalised, China denies it has any such policy in place and has said it is ‘willing to strengthen international cooperation’ on the issue.
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