Jab in the face for Xi as virus cases rise in China

Rapid spread of the Delta variant casts a shadow on the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines  

President Xi Jinping has drawn the blinds, put up the closed sign and bolted the door.

In the past 16 months, China has shut its borders, pursued a zero-tolerance policy to new Covid-19 cases and rolled out a massive vaccination program.

But rising infection rates in the last two weeks have triggered a heated debate about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines against the highly contagious Delta variant, which first surfaced in India earlier this year. 

“Visitors can usually enter China only for specific ‘business’ purposes and if they have received a Chinese vaccine,” Eyck Freymann, of the macroeconomic and geopolitical consultancy Greenmantle, said.

“[Other] visas [have been] rejected. Those who get approval must submit to a hotel quarantine lasting 14 to 21 days – plus unnecessary weekly anal swabs. Unsurprisingly, the flow of foreigners has slowed to a trickle,” Freymann, the author of One Belt One Road: Chinese Power Meets the World, wrote in an opinion piece for The Wire China.

What is happening:

  • China reported 75 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday as the Delta variant continues to spread.
  • More than 300 cases have been detected within a span of 10 days.
  • At least 15 provinces and municipalities have now confirmed cases.
  • They include 12 connected to an outbreak that began in the Jiangsu provincial city of Nanjing.
  • Beijing has blamed the rise in infections on the Delta variant and the domestic tourist season.
  • So far, China has reported approximately 93,000 cases since SARS-CoV-2 first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019.
  • The country has administered more than 1.6 billion doses of its domestic vaccines.

What was said: “Epidemiologists [have] warned that if the rigorous measures cannot be effectively imposed, China could face another full-scale outbreak,” state-controlled Global Times reported on Monday

Super spreader: “It’s too early to predict when the inflection point will come for the outbreak, which has been spreading to more places,” an official close to China’s National Health Commission who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Global Times.

Closed encounters: “China’s State Council reportedly plans to start reopening its borders in the second half of 2022. But this timeline is not credible. Covid-19 likely cannot be eradicated globally,” Freymann, of consultancy Greenmantle, said.

Jabbed in the back: “While China’s vaccine rollout has been extraordinary, Chinese vaccines barely work against the Delta variant, which is now dominant around the world,” Freymann pointed out.

Delve deeper: Even before the pandemic, the number of overseas workers in the world’s second-largest economy was “nosediving.” But now, the exodus is threatening to undermine corporate culture, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China reported in June.

Forget it: “While some employees are still attempting to return, many have simply given up and moved on. There is a concern that China’s foreign talent pool may never fully recover,” the EU Chamber of Commerce study revealed.

China Factor comment: President Xi’s government prides itself on how it has handled the Covid-19 pandemic after the initial Wuhan cover-up. But this latest outbreak could wreck that image if the virus continues to spread.