Inside China’s outbreak
China is experiencing its worst surge of the virus since the summer, forcing 28 million people into lockdown and challenging the government’s success in subduing the disease.
The country’s National Health Commission said that 144 new cases had been recorded yesterday along with one death — the county’s first since May. Across China, more than 1,000 people are being treated for Covid-19.
The flare-up is mostly in Hebei, a northern province surrounding Beijing. The region’s capital, Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million people, is scrambling to build an 82-acre quarantine center.
Our colleague Keith Bradsher, the Times’s Shanghai bureau chief, told us that the Chinese authorities “are very concerned about stamping this out, because they have taken a zero-tolerance approach in which they have tested as many as two million people a day in a city if there are even a handful of cases discovered.”
Keith said that for the past few months many people in China had been living as though the virus was a distant threat. They’ve been pulling off their masks, particularly outdoors, and restaurants, bars and theaters have hummed with activity. “Almost all people in China were able to go about their daily lives in the second half of last year as though practically nothing had happened,” he said.
But things have started to change, even for people who live outside the areas in lockdown. In Shanghai, Keith said, office buildings and apartment compounds are, once again, checking smartphone location tracking codes, to ensure that individuals haven’t traveled to hot spots. If someone has traveled to a risky area, that person must immediately report to the authorities and enter a home- or government-supervised quarantine.
“Mandatory immediate quarantine by the government, in total isolation, of every symptomatic or asymptomatic person, plus all of their close contacts” has been China’s secret to containing the coronavirus, Keith said. “In some cases, they identify 800 close contacts per person, so their definition of a close contact is not very close at all.”
With the U.S. and Europe in the throes of another brutal surge, there has been a great deal of nationalistic sentiment in China, promoting the country’s approach to the virus. “There are definite worries about the latest outbreaks,” Keith said. “But I have found a quiet confidence among many people that China has beaten this problem before and can do so again.”
How the variant affects kids
The new variant of the coronavirus, first identified in Britain, is expected to rapidly spread in the U.S. That has fueled fears that children, who have largely been spared the worst of the virus, may become just as susceptible and contagious as adults.
The latest research out of Britain largely puts the worst fears to rest. Data from about 20,000 people infected with the new variant — including nearly 3,000 children under age 10 — showed that young children were about half as likely as adults to transmit the variant to others.
“That’s exactly what we had been seeing with the current variant that’s circulating in the U.S., too,” said our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who wrote about the research. “Nothing has really changed on that front.”
That seems like good news. But the new variant is about 30 to 50 percent more contagious than the original, for children and adults alike. It is expected to become the dominant form of the coronavirus in the U.S. by March, which means more kids will get the virus, even if they are still proportionately less contagious and less prone to getting infected than adults.
“The variant is more contagious, but it’s more contagious across all age groups,” Apoorva said. “If kids were half as likely to be infected before, they’re also half as likely to be infected now.”
The pandemic, supercharged by the new variant, could force even elementary schools to close if community spread rises to unmanageable levels. But if schools act fast to shore up safety protocols — mask wearing, physical distancing, ventilation and extensive testing — they might buy themselves crucial time.
“Just like we had time in the summer to get ready for the fall for schools to open, we have a chance right now to get this right,” Apoorva said. “We know the variant is here, but it’s still at low levels. We have time now to prepare to make sure that schools are ready.”
Who gets priority for the vaccine?
It’s complicated. The patchwork vaccination system that has been rolled out the U.S., with policies that vary from state to state, has created a wave of confusion about who can get inoculated, and when. To help you sort it out, The New York Times looked at the rules for who is eligible in each state.
What else we’re following
As India prepares to begin an ambitious coronavirus vaccination program this weekend, more than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims gathered to take a dip in the Ganges River yesterday, the start of the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.
Upgrades will take Pfizer’s main European vaccine plant offline for weeks, stirring outrage in the region.
When the federal government announced on Tuesday that it was releasing a stockpile of vaccine doses, some state health officials expected to get an increase in their weekly shipments. But the reserve doses were dedicated to people who had already gotten a first dose of the vaccine, so the release of this stockpile would not expand inoculations to a new group of people.
After a sluggish first month, the pace of coronavirus vaccinations in New York City is accelerating to the point that it expects to exhaust its supply of doses as early as next week.
Misinformation on social media about freely available vaccines sent hundreds of people rushing to a medical site in Brooklyn on Thursday evening.
“It was anarchy at the deli counter.” Pharmacies in Washington, D.C., grocery stores have silently began offering surplus vaccines to anyone nearby, and chaos ensued, The Atlantic reports.
Doctors’ offices are overflowing with inquiries from patients who hope to get the vaccine, even though most physicians do not have doses to offer.
Since March, at least 400,000 more Americans have died than would have in a normal year, a sign of the broad devastation wrought by the pandemic.
What you’re doing
I’ve been busy playing with and training two rambunctious Great Pyrenees puppies, letting my hair go gray and wearing braces because I can’t go anywhere anyway!
— Debbie, Calif.
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