Chinese province bordering North Korea, Russia in ‘last ditch’ COVID battle


SHANGHAI (Reuters) -China’s Jilin province was “in a last ditch battle” against COVID-19, according to a senior Communist Party official, as the northeastern region bordering North Korea and Russia accounted for three-quarters of China’s total new cases on Wednesday.

Authorities have called for blanket testing Jilin, with provincial Communist Party secretary Jing Junhai urging health departments to ensure “not a single person is missed”, the official Jilin Daily newspaper reported.

Jilin registered 1,456 new symptomatic COVID-19 community transmissions on March. 15, while new cases totalled 1,860 nationwide, National Health Commission (NHC) data showed.

Though Jilin’s infections had halved compared to a day earlier, it was still over a thousand for a fourth consecutive day, and Jing described the battle to stamp out China’s worst outbreak in two years as having entered a “critical stage”.

The provincial health authority said last week that the current outbreak was triggered by infected people arriving from abroad, without specifying where they had travelled from.

Russia’s far east suffered a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, with new daily infections in Vladivistok, around 100 miles from the Jilin border, peaking in mid-February at over 1,500.

The number of cases in North Korea is unknown, though an independent U.N. human rights investigator has warned that millions of vaccines need to be supplied to avert a humanitarian disaster in the reclusive country.


While China’s case numbers are far lower than many other countries have suffered, authorities continue to implement stringent emergency measures as soon as new outbreaks occur.

NHC spokesperson Mi Feng told a regular briefing on Tuesday that the current outbreak had already spread to 28 regions, adding that the situation was “severe and complicated”.

Even regions with relatively few new infections have turned the screws. Shanghai, which saw five new local symptomatic transmissions and nearly 200 domestically transmitted asymptomatic carriers on Tuesday, was mass-testing residents of apartment blocks throughout the city.

State media have staunchly defended China’s “dynamic clearance” COVID-19 controls, with the Communist Party-owned tabloid the Global Times saying in an editorial that China’s achievements “may go down the drain” if controls are relaxed.

But analysts warn that as the cost of containment rises, something may have to give eventually.

“Given Omicron’s very high transmissibility, this tension between containment and economic stabilisation is coming to a head,” said Michael Hirson, China analyst with the Eurasia Group, a U.S. based think-tank.

“In a scenario where China has to maintain the current level of stringency, which seems like the baseline for this year, there will be a significant drag on the economy,” he added.

Since the pandemic began in late 2019, mainland China has recorded 122,456 cases with confirmed symptoms, including both local ones and those arriving from abroad, as of March 15. There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll unchanged at 4,636.

(Reporting by David Stanway, Roxanne Liu and Albee Zhang; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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