China saw more than 5,000 new Covid-19 infections for the first time since the early days of the pandemic, as outbreaks of the highly contagious omicron variant prompt officials to lock down more cities and impose restrictions.
The were a total of 5,154 new cases, of which 1,647 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said. While not a large number if compared globally, it’s a significant tally for China which has kept cases low for most of the past two years through a strict Covid Zero strategy that is now being challenged.
More than 4,000 of those infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, bordering Russia. The region of some 24 million residents was locked down on Monday to try and stymie what has become an explosive outbreak by China standards.
The virus is starting to encroach on some of China’s most important cities. Langfang, which borders Beijing, was locked down early Tuesday, and the tech hub of Shenzhen was shut on Sunday, the most significant Chinese city yet to be subject to movement restrictions.
China’s financial hub of Shanghai has also seen infections rise to their highest ever, prompting the halt of bus services from other provinces and the discussion of diverting international flights. The city has already switched to home-schooling for students from kindergarten to middle school, while several hospitals in the city have suspended outpatient services.
Elsewhere, Dongguan, a key manufacturing city in the southern province of Guangdong, suspended operations at factories in areas where the virus is circulating.
The growing clusters in some of the country’s key economic zones are set to test China’s Covid Zero playbook, which typically relies on mass testing and hardcore lockdowns to stamp out infections. Until now, officials have largely resisted extreme lockdowns in major cities, and instead have deployed more targeted responses.
National Bureau of Statistics spokesman Fu Linghui said Tuesday that recent lockdowns, as well as pressure from rising costs and disruption risks, could weigh on growth and the country’s continued economic recovery.
Before Tuesday, China has seen just two days when Covid cases exceeded 5,000: both during the initial outbreak in Wuhan, central China. The country reported a one-time surge of more than 15,000 cases on Feb. 12, 2020, after health authorities included cases previously unable to be diagnosed amid a shortage of test kits. This was followed by 5,090 cases the next day.