Chinese city on Myanmar border to start monthly mass Covid-19 testing

·4-min read

The Chinese border city of Ruili has said it will make mass coronavirus testing a routine monthly measure as local governments show signs of committing even further to the country’s much-debated zero-Covid approach.

Authorities in the southwest province of Yunnan, which neighbours Myanmar, said mass testing was “the most effective way to detect outbreaks” and the city was capable of testing its entire population in one day, state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

Ruili, which has 280,000 residents, has already conducted nearly 3.7 million Covid-19 tests since October 1, according to the Yunnan authorities.

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To detect infections as early as possible, staff at quarantine sites would be tested every three days, market workers every week, and foreigners and other high-risk people every two weeks, the announcement said.

China has maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards cases, rolling out mass testing, frequent contact tracing, lengthy quarantines and strict border controls.

Ruili had reported 49 symptomatic and asymptomatic infections as of Saturday during the present outbreak that started last month. It has undergone four strict lockdowns since September last year, lasting about seven months in total.

On Tuesday, China reported 11 new local symptomatic cases from four provinces and regions including Beijing, of which seven cases were in the northeastern port of Dalian. There were also 11 imported symptomatic cases and a further 13 asymptomatic cases, 11 of them imported.

Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan was in Dalian – which has a population of 7.3 million and is a 1½-hour flight from Beijing – to direct Covid-19 control efforts from Friday. She said authorities should be clear on the frequency of tests to ensure efficiency and quality, Xinhua reported on Monday night.

Sun said the country should strengthen Covid-19 prevention at port cities and set up monitoring and early-warning mechanisms. Workers at high risk should get tested every other day and avoid contact with other people, including family members, she said.

Zhuanghe, a city governed by the Dalian authorities which has accounted for 85 per cent of Dalian’s 304 infections (260 symptomatic) since November 4, found no further infections in a ninth round of mass testing for about 600,000 people, according to Xinhua. Authorities have identified a Delta strain of the virus that caused the local outbreak in Dalian but have yet to trace its source.

Professor Liang Wannian, head of a panel of experts advising the government, said last week that China would continue with a “dynamic” zero-tolerance approach, aiming to cut continuous community spread of Covid-19 and reduce deaths with early and strong measures.

Premature relaxation of controls would put the country’s hard-won gains at risk, he warned.

China rejects ‘living with Covid-19’ model even as spikes get ‘more common’

The Chinese government’s approach contrasts with those of many countries that have decided to ease restrictions on travel and social gatherings while encouraging vaccination in an attempt to return to normality.

Questions have been raised over how long China should maintain its approach, given the potential economic cost and the continued emergence of sporadic outbreaks.

Some Chinese experts have pointed to pathways for the country to fully relax its controls. Top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan said those pathways included developing effective drug treatments, establishing herd immunity with a high vaccination rate, limiting the Covid-19 death rate to less than 0.1 per cent and keeping the transmission rate of each infected person to between 1 and 1.5 others.

China is on track to approve its first drug for Covid-19, possibly within weeks. Conditional approval may be given to a neutralising monoclonal antibody treatment co-developed by Chinese and US researchers by the end of the year, according to an official publication of the Ministry of Science and Technology on Monday.

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