BEIJING — Two mayors have been dismissed in northeastern China, and Shanghai has closed its school system and shifted to online instruction, as a coronavirus outbreak in mainland China gathers speed.
China’s National Health Commission announced on Saturday that another 1,524 locally transmitted coronavirus cases had been detected in provinces across mainland China. That was up from 1,100 cases reported a day earlier, and a couple hundred cases per day a week ago.
Though China suffered heavy loss of life when Covid-19 first emerged in the city of Wuhan more than two years ago, it has had much more success than any other large country in controlling the virus since then. The surge in cases in the past few days, fueled by the Omicron variant, still leaves China far below the daily case count of about 35,000 in the United States, which has less than a quarter of China’s population.
The current increase in cases poses a significant challenge for China. After adopting a zero-tolerance strategy toward the virus for most of the past two years, China has shifted in recent months to a “dynamic zero” strategy. Under the new strategy, national leaders have tolerated the occasional emergence of a handful of cases in a city, provided that city leaders then quickly stamp out all further cases.
Now the Omicron variant is proving so infectious that local leaders no longer seem able to stamp out each outbreak. The cases reported on Saturday were scattered across 20 of China’s 31 provinces.
The mayors of Jilin City and the Jiutai district of the city of Changchun have both been dismissed, the state-run Xinhua news agency announced on Saturday, without specifying exactly when the dismissals had happened. Both places have had rapidly expanding outbreaks.
Jilin City has an urban population of 1.8 million, while the mostly rural Jiutai district, which reported 99 new cases on Saturday morning, has 760,000 residents.
Changchun, which has nine million people, was placed under partial lockdown on Friday, with each household only allowed to send out a member every other day to buy supplies. Jilin City, with over 1,000 cases in the past 10 days, has had a sustained outbreak at a local agricultural university.
China’s system for detecting and tracing infections has relied heavily on mandatory testing for anyone with a fever. Temperature checks are common at entrances to shopping malls and office complexes. Furthermore, people who try to buy fever-relieving medicine are tested for the coronavirus.
But two-thirds of the cases reported nationwide on Saturday involved people with no symptoms, possibly because China has a nearly 90 percent vaccination rate. Infected yet asymptomatic people can spread the virus to others, but finding these people is hard, Chinese officials have said.
Li You contributed research.