As the virus reappears in Hebei province, on the outskirts of the capital, the authorities are sounding the alarm. The stake is not only health, it is also very political.
Correspondent in Asia,
The Covid is once again lurking at the gates of Beijing. The Chinese authorities are sounding the action to limit an epidemic resurgence in Hebei province, on the outskirts of the showcase capital of the communist regime. On Tuesday, January 12, they imposed a strict quarantine of seven days on the five million inhabitants of the city of Langfang, located about fifty kilometers southeast of the Forbidden City. “We will defend the safety and public health of the capital by all meansThe Hebei authorities promised in chorus during an emergency meeting on January 12.
On Monday, China reported 103 new cases of Covid in 24 hours, for the first time crossing the symbolic bar of “centFor nearly six months. A clear recovery, as the most populous country in the world registered only a handful of new patients per day, since the summer. This trend was confirmed on Wednesday, with 107 new cases tested positive, including 90 in Hebei province, and 16 in Heilongjiang, a northern province bordering the Northeast.
Small but worrying figures
These figures remain tiny, compared to the tens of thousands of cases recorded a year ago when the epidemic broke out in Wuhan, and very far from the current slaughter in Europe or the United States. However, they are enough to trigger the alarm of the regime, which fears a new epidemic wave in the heart of the harsh winter in Northeast Asia. In Hong Kong too, sixty new local cases have been detected, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The government quickly resumed the maximalist methods that enabled it to curb the epidemic last year, when it decreed an implacable blockade on the central province of Hubei, then the epicenter of the crisis. On Tuesday, Langfang was sealed off in addition to the blockade of other neighboring cities including Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, a new home bringing the total of inhabitants cut off from the world to more than 22 million in recent days.
The police impose checks on the main roads leading to the capital, forcing travelers to turn back. This resurgence, this time in rural areas, first surprised the authorities, after months of control. But Chinese experts are confident that this strong and swift response will pay off. “I am fully confident that the epidemic focus in Shijiazhuang will be under control within a month.Said Zhang Wenhong, a renowned epidemiologist at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai.
In the meantime, Beijing is barricaded to protect its 20 million inhabitants from this new epidemic assault, after a positive patient from Hebei was detected in the Xicheng district, a historic district inhabited by many “red frames“. The 95 contact cases of this woman were placed under observation, according to the Chinese press. In the capital, the strict control of digital health certificates is back with the frost and travelers must now scan it via their smartphone before getting in a taxi.
“I’m going to get the vaccine this afternoon. My manager told me that it was mandatory and that if I don’t get the vaccine, I won’t be able to drive anymore. “
A Beijing driver
At the same time, the vaccination campaign is accelerating: a million Pekingese have already received an injection, and the municipality intends to inoculate 100,000 doses per day by the Chinese New Year in mid-February. Taxi and bus drivers are among the priority groups. “ I’m going to get the shot this afternoon. My manager told me that it was mandatory and that if I don’t get the vaccine, I won’t be able to drive anymore »Explains a 43-year-old driver from Beijing on Wednesday. “ This week, the 20,000 drivers of our company will be vaccinated »Adds the man, who welcomes this measure with phlegm. Nationally, the world’s second largest economy has already vaccinated 9 million people, and is aiming for the goal of 50 million by the start of the Year of the Ox on February 12.
This epidemic resurgence is fueling the nervousness of power, on the verge of this “Spring Festival“, During which hundreds of millions of Chinese traditionally return to their native province to find their families for”summer holidays“. This gigantic crossover, conducive to the spread of the virus, in often freezing temperatures, worries experts. This year, the government encourages the population to give up this trip, “unless necessaryAnd celebrate the New Year in their hometown. In Beijing, civil servants, like employees of state groups, are urged to stay at home and avoid family reunions or lose their jobs. And the quarantine imposed on rare travelers from abroad has been extended from two to three weeks. “They risk locking up Beijing by the New Year. If we wanna go, we gotta do it nowSays Tian, an employee of a consulting firm in Gongti District.
The risk of damaging a success
The stakes are political for President Xi Jinping, as propaganda highlights the superiority of the “Socialist model with Chinese characteristics” facing the virus, at a time when the American rival is still stuck in the pandemic. An epidemic outbreak in Beijing would undermine this success, and threaten the ritual holding of “two Assemblies», The regime’s annual political high mass held in early March in the Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square.
This resurgence also comes as the regime tries to make people forget its initial missteps in the face of the virus, in particular the bringing of the whistle-blowing doctors, just a year ago. Censorship has warned the media not to refer to the “first anniversary” of the epidemic, according to official press sources.
The epidemic resumption finally occurs when experts from the WHO will land in Wuhan, Thursday, January 14, to conduct an investigation into the origin of the pandemic, after long negotiations with Beijing. China finally gave its consent to the arrival of international experts, in transit in Singapore, after having delayed the issuance of the necessary authorizations, a few days earlier, even triggering criticism from the director general of the organization. Tedros Ghebreyesus. This is a “misunderstanding»Replied Beijing, without offering details on the process, and the access to which scientists will be entitled.