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Politics At Centre Stage As Beijing Battles Fresh Covid Wave

NEW DELHI: China’s struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic have re-emerged with what is being described as the worst outbreak since Wuhan last year. Corona cases hit a seven month high on Tuesday with the Delta variant triggering alarm across the country.

China’s National Health Commission announced 143 new confirmed COVID cases in at least 17 provinces. Th origin of the cases is still unclear, but health authorities have pointed to Nanjing city, where a number of cases were detected among airport clearners. Authorities also say the first cases of the variant were reported in July among infected workers who arrived on a plane from Russia. Today Nanjing with an estimated 9.2 million population is under total lockdown.

August is the holiday season in China and Zhangjiajie in Hunan province is a popular tourist destination for its cultural and music shows,. At least one performance was reportedly attended by over 2,000 people. “Zhangjiajie has now become the new ground zero for China’s epidemic spread,” Zhong Nanshan, China’s leading respiratory disease expert, told reporters.

Authorities have already snapped all transport links from the affected provinces to Beijing, which has prompted criticism with the Global Times newspaper calling for the “glaring loopholes” in Covid prevention measures to be fixed. “It is absolutely worrying if a single flaw can affect many provinces and regions across the country… it shows that our systematic progress in fighting the epidemic needs to be strengthened,” the editorial said.

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The speed at which the Delta variant of the pandemic has spread will test China’s vaccination drive and its vaccines. Health authorities have stated that 1.6 billion doses have been given to the populace and only China made vaccines have been given. But the problem goes beyond China as there is now a trust deficit.

Nations are recalling the delay which Beijing took to declare the pandemic – it even tried to cover up reports that there was one. The WHO’s role too came under scrutiny ensuring that today the current crisis in China is being viewed with more seriousness verging on alarm.

It does not help that Beijing’s ministers and diplomats continue to insist till date, that the WHO investigate the origins of the pandemic in Detrick Lab in Maryland. “The US should invite WHO experts to investigate Fort Detrick and its 200-plus bio-labs overseas. In particular, the Fort Detrick base is the headquarters of the US biological militarisation activities, and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is the principal entity,” Zhao Lijian, foreign ministry spokesman said, claiming that “The international community and the American public have long voiced concerns about the illegal, obscure, and unsafe activities in Fort Detrick.”

“The Research Institute, long engaged in coronavirus studies and modification, had serious safety accidents, and was shut down in 2019. Soon afterwards, a disease with similar symptoms with COVID-19 broke out in the US. On these questions, the US side has never given any explanations to its own people and the international community,” he said.