China has shut down at least 11 regions as of Monday and is facing major coronavirus outbreaks throughout the country, two weeks after the nation hosted a New Year’s Eve party for a crowd of thousands in Wuhan.
Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province where the Chinese coronavirus originated in late 2019, held an open-air New Year’s Eve celebration which thousands attended on December 31 to greet 2021. Chinese state media boasted that those expressing concern about the dramatic images of tightly-packed crowds should “get used to it,” as Wuhan would continue to host large parties and other gatherings.
Public health experts have regularly discouraged mass gatherings in light of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, noting they help bolster community spread of the virus. Experts also recommend that those potentially exposed to the virus quarantine for 14 days, the believed maximum incubation period for the virus to show itself via symptoms.
The Global Times, a Chinese government newspaper, announced Monday that the Communist Party had shut down movement in at least 11 regions in three provinces — northeastern Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Hebei — insisting that the restrictions were not “lockdowns,” but “de facto” lockdowns. Residents cannot leave those areas and their movement within is strictly limited.
The capital of Hebei, Shijiazhuang, is reportedly the most active hotspot, where medical experts had documented 745 coronavirus cases as of Monday, all of them transmitted locally. Authorities there announced last Friday that they would begin building a new quarantine facility with the ability to house 3,000 patients, allegedly in anticipation of high levels of travel — and contagion — during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.
Last year, Wuhan allowed 5 million of its 11 million residents to leave the city during Lunar New Year, effectively spreading the Chinese coronavirus worldwide.
Hebei province surrounds the capital region of Beijing.
In addition to the three provinces on lockdown, a fourth, Shanxi, banned rural residents from organizing funerals, weddings, and performances last week, and also imposed “strict controls” on the gatherings it would allow. Liaoning, north of Jilin, has also documented a surge. Hong Kong, about 1,600 miles from Jilin, is experiencing a coronavirus case boom that health officials there blamed on ethnic minorities.
“They have many family gatherings and like to gather with fellow countrymen. They like to share food, smoke, drink alcohol, and chat together,” Raymond Ho, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s health promotion branch, claimed Monday.
In northeast China, officials have targeted two main alleged causes of the outbreaks: one individual who officials claim is a “superspreader,” and frozen food, which scientists doubt has the ability to spread coronavirus.
Communist Party media identified the “superspreader” only by the last name “Lin” and claimed he is a “silent,” or asymptomatic, carrier of the Chinese coronavirus. Lin is allegedly from Heilongjiang and brought the outbreak to Jilin while touring clubs of elderly people to promote the sale of linseed oil, a common product in traditional Chinese medicine. The Global Times claimed that the incident shows that asymptomatic cases “could pose an even more dangerous threat for local epidemic control and prevention than those confirmed cases” — speculation unfounded in scientific data. Officials at the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said in June that asymptomatic spread is “very rare,” then clarified, “we don’t actually have that answer yet.”
In the same article, the Global Times later states, “silent infections are less contagious and possess a lower viral load than confirmed cases.”
Another culprit identified by the Communist Party is “frozen products,” which they claim come from foreign countries and bring the virus living on their surfaces. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is “no evidence” linking frozen food packaging to coronavirus spread.
Absent from the theories as to what caused China’s most recent outbreak is a party for thousands of tightly-packed people in Wuhan, which followed weeks of what Australia’s The News described as images “showing bars, restaurants and clubs thriving in Wuhan, with no evidence in the city of 11 million residents that the world was currently gripped by a pandemic.” Many of those interviewed attending the event were not Wuhan locals, with some even admitting it was their first time in the city. Presumably, these individuals went home after their attendance at the party.
Public experts have routinely and effusively discouraged mass gatherings due to their ability to rapidly spread disease.
“In the context of COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus], mass gatherings are events that could amplify the transmission of the virus and potentially disrupt the host country’s response capacity,” the W.H.O.’s guidelines on mass gatherings read.
The head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci, has repeatedly warned Americans to stay home and as far away from other people as possible, going so far as to personally abstain from celebrations for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“More big gatherings like the New Year celebrations, sports events and live concerts will be staged in Wuhan, which was the hardest-hit city in China by COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus], during 2021, and the world had better get used to it,” the Global Times asserted on January 3, calling criticism of the mass gatherings “prejudice and hostility.”
“When large crowds of Wuhan residents took to streets and launched balloons to celebrate the arrival of 2021 on New Year’s Eve, in sharp contrast with what Western media called a ghost town like Times Square with roads closed but no live audience, some Westerners with jealous eyes were sarcastic about Wuhan,” the Times observed. “Some Wuhan residents reached by the Global Times called the sarcastic comments ‘sour grapes,’ and said that their lives had returned to normal months ago, and more gatherings like the New Year celebration would be held in the city.”