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China Battles Nationwide Surge in Covid-19 Cases

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HONG KONG—Daily Covid-19 daily infection numbers in China continued to hit levels not seen since early 2020, as health authorities rushed to stay ahead of a fast-moving virus spreading quickly through asymptomatic carriers.

On Friday, China’s National Health Commission reported more than 1,000 locally transmitted Covid-19 infections, the first time daily case counts had topped that milestone in roughly two years. Most of the new cases, 397 of which were asymptomatic, were clustered in the eastern province of Shandong and the northeastern province of Jilin.

By late February, China had vaccinated nearly 90% of its population, according to data from China’s National Health Commission.

Chinese local health officials say the surge in cases has been driven by the more infectious but milder Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which often infects and spreads without any obvious symptoms and can break through full vaccination. While the Omicron variant is less threatening for individual patients, it makes detecting and then tracking cases more difficult, they said.

On Friday, Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin province, ordered its more than nine million residents to undergo “closed management” measures after logging two symptomatic cases and another 21 asymptomatic ones.

Under “closed management,” Changchun citizens are required to stay home, with one family member permitted to go out every two days to buy food and other necessities. Intercity transport, nonessential businesses and recreational facilities are required to suspend operations indefinitely as everyone in the city is tested three times.

What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage. Photo: Michael Nagle/Zuma Press

The nearby city of Jilin, roughly 60 miles to the east, was put under “closed management” last week, and completed four rounds of citywide testing on Wednesday.

On Thursday, state broadcaster China Central Television aired footage showing people in full protective suits lined up in front of 30 buses gathered outside Jilin Agricultural Science and Technology University in Jilin City, saying the buses were transporting close contacts of confirmed cases there to isolation facilities.

A post on China’s


-like social-media platform Weibo accused the university of having mishandled an outbreak there, leaving students without water and sanitary pads. The post has garnered more than 2.6 million likes since it was posted midday Thursday.

On the same day, the provincial government in Jilin released a statement announcing the firing of the party secretary of the university.

Jilin province has logged more than 1,100 cases this month, roughly half of whom showed no symptoms, according to local health officials.

In Shandong province, more than two-thirds of the 276 people who tested positive on Thursday were asymptomatic, according to the National Health Commission.

The cluster there centered on a school in Shandong’s Laixi city and has led to the firing or reprimanding of 17 officials for alleged lack of vigilance.

In the Chinese financial hub of Shanghai, meanwhile, health officials on Friday tallied up 75 new cases, 11 of them with symptoms. In an act of self-criticism, the local health commission blamed its own mismanagement of pandemic measures for the transmissions.

What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage. Photo: Michael Nagle/Zuma Press

Shanghai education officials said they would close all kindergartens and primary, middle and high schools starting Saturday, shifting to online classes until further notice.

During a news conference marking the end of China’s annual legislative gathering on Friday, Chinese Premier

Li Keqiang

defended China’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus, saying the country would base its decisions on science while seeking to ensure the smooth operation of supply chains.

China has been adhering to what it calls a “dynamic clearing” policy that attempts to snuff out outbreaks as quickly as possible. For the past two years, it has kept infection and death counts very low by global standards, though the measures require a suite of costly and laborious measures including tight border controls, targeted lockdowns, mass testing and digital surveillance.

On Friday, China’s National Health Commision released guidance saying residents could now buy rapid antigen testing kits from pharmacies and online platforms to test themselves at home. Until now, China has been relying on nucleic acid tests administered by trained staff.

Write to Sha Hua at sha.hua@wsj.com

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