“The cost is truly rather high, but compared with not managing it, relaxing (the zero-tolerance policy), then that cost is even higher,” Zhong Nanshan, a top government doctor, said in a recent TV interview.

 Wang Lijie planned to spend three days in the Gobi Desert last month to take in the area’s famous poplar forest as its trees turned a golden yellow.

Instead, the Beijing resident has been stuck for more than three weeks, much of it in quarantine, after authorities discovered a cluster of COVID-19 cases in a nearby city. He was among more than 9,000 tourists who became trapped in Ejin Banner, a remote part of China’s Inner Mongolia region that is in the Gobi.

As vaccination rates rise in many parts of the world and even countries that previously had strict COVID-containment strategies gingerly ease restrictions, China is doubling down on its zero-tolerance policy, the AP reports.

China pioneered that approach — of strict lockdowns, multiple rounds of mass testing and centralized quarantine — during the world’s first major outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. And it continues now, even as it says it has fully vaccinated 77% of its 1.4 billion people and started giving booster shots.

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