China finds new Covid-19 subtype as daily cases exceed 13,000
Shafaq News/ China on Sunday (April 3) reported 13,146 Covid-19 cases, the highest since the peak of the first wave more than two years ago, as health officials said they have found a suspected new subtype of the Omicron variant in the Shanghai area.
"There were 1,455 patients with symptoms... 11,691 asymptomatic cases... and no new deaths reported," the National Health Commission said in a statement.
Officials in Suzhou, a city 30 minutes west of Shanghai, have detected a mutation of the Omicron variant not found in local or international databases, state media reported on Sunday.
"This means a new variant of Omicron has been discovered locally," Xinhua reported, citing health official Zhang Jun, deputy director of the Suzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new iteration of the virus, isolated from a mild Covid-19 patient in a city less than 70km from Shanghai, evolved from the BA.1.1 branch of the Omicron variant, Global Times reported, citing sequencing data from local health authorities.
The report said the subtype does not match other coronavirus that is causing Covid-19 in China nor those submitted to Gisaid, where scientists around the world share the coronavirus sequencing as a way to monitor mutations.
In China's financial hub Shanghai, the epicentre of the country's most severe Covid-19 outbreak, nearly all of its 25 million residents were under stay-at-home orders on Saturday as officials rushed to curb the spread of the disease.
On Sunday, the city had more than 8,200 local cases – nearly 70 per cent of the nationwide total, which is relatively low by global standards but troubling to a country that recorded just double-digit daily cases for much of the last two years.
Shanghai's restrictions threaten to snarl supply chains, with shipping giant Maersk saying on Friday that some depots in the city remained closed and trucking services would likely be hit further due to the lockdown.
Anger is rising among residents over lockdowns that were initially planned to last just for four days, but now appear likely to drag on for several more days as fresh rounds of mass testing are carried out.
Parents have expressed fears of separation from their children in the event of a positive test, while residents have griped about a lack of fresh food and the ability to walk dogs outside.
Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan arrived in Shanghai to oversee prevention efforts, as she ordered officials to curtail the outbreak "as soon as possible", according to Xinhua.
Ms Sun, who previously went to Jilin to oversee lockdown measures in the north-east province, ordered Shanghai officials to "resolutely" conduct measures to stop the outbreak.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has spread to more than a dozen provinces, rattling China’s "zero-Covid" strategy which had until March successfully kept the daily caseload down to double or triple digits.
But the current outbreak is also testing the patience of the Chinese towards tough restrictions, as Beijing imposes targeted lockdowns, mass tests and travel curbs at a time when much of the world has re-opened.
On Sunday, the 1.5 million residents of Baicheng in northeast China joined the ranks of tens of millions of other Chinese who have endured some form of lockdown over the last month, disrupting work and damaging the economy.
Tens of millions of Chinese residents have once more endured some form of lockdown over the last month, disrupting work and damaging the economy.
The 13,146 cases reported on Sunday is China’s highest infection toll since the middle of February 2020.
China is among the last remaining places following a zero-Covid-19 approach to the pandemic.
The World Health Organisation’s emergencies director Michael Ryan last week said it was important for all countries, including China, to have a plan to wind down pandemic restrictions.
But he said China’s vast population provides a unique challenge to its health system and authorities will have to "define a strategy that allows them to exit (the pandemic) safely".