Omicron ‘stealth’ variant BA.2 is spreading rapidly in China
March 25, 2022: -As mainland China battles its worst Covid-19 outbreak since early 2020, local governments increasingly say the recent omicron BA.2 variant is to blame.
The new Covid subvariant, which preliminary research indicates is even more transmissible than the original omicron variant but doesn’t necessarily cause more severe illness.
Mainland China has reported well more than 1,000 recent confirmed Covid cases a day since March 12, holding more than 2,000 for the last three days. That’s not including the asymptomatic case count, which can be just as many over the number of daily confirmed cases.
From the northern province of Jilin, which accounts for over half of the new daily cases, to industrial centers such as Tangshan and Shenzhen, local authorities have blamed omicron BA.2 for the latest wave of Covid.
“Omicron BA.2 caused this outbreak and spread faster and more easily than previous viruses,” the export-heavy province of Fujian said in an online statement on Tuesday, according to a CNBC translation of the Chinese text.
The Fujian government said that the subvariant is also “stealthier” and harder to find, but infections are primarily mild or asymptomatic.
Scientists have also described BA.2 as a “stealth” variant because it contains mutations that could make it harder to distinguish from the older delta variant which uses PCR tests.
Despite apparent changes in the virus severity, China is maintaining its stringent zero-Covid policy of using swift, regional lockdowns to control outbreaks. The strategy is helping the economy quickly return to growth after the initial shock of the pandemic in recent 2020.
Different provinces or cities can impose quarantines or travel restrictions on people coming from different regions or require valid virus tests, adding hurdles to commercial travel.
For instance, a company had to change its truck driver to a local one before the vehicle is entering a city in the Guangxi region, said Klaus Zenkel, chair of the south China chapter of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China. “Otherwise, he will not be able to enter the area where he needs to deliver the goods.”
Zenkel is based in the southern city of Shenzhen, ending a week-long lockdown Sunday night.
“If you compared this lockdown for the seven days last week, 14 to March 21, it was almost tougher than two years ago when the pandemic started,” he said, which refers to the tighter government restrictions on international travel and stay-home policies.
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