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Hong Kong (CNN)China has punished more than 40 local officials for failing to control a spiraling Delta variant outbreak, as authorities scramble to curb the worst resurgence of Covid-19 the country has seen in over a year.
The current outbreak, which first emerged in the eastern city of Nanjing, has spread to over half of China’s 31 provinces and caused more than 1,000 symptomatic infections in three weeks, according to a CNN tally of the National Health Commission’s daily reports.
Authorities have rushed to impose stringent lockdowns, mass testing, extensive quarantine and travel restrictions — a strict playbook it has previously used to swiftly stamp out sporadic flare-ups.
China’s “zero tolerance” Covid strategy has put local governments under huge pressure to keep the virus at bay, and a slew of officials have been punished during previous rounds of local outbreaks.
The highly infectious Delta variant, however, has thrown China’s zero Covid strategy into question, raising uncertainty over how sustainable the approach is.
In recent weeks, some prominent Chinese public health experts have called for a switch in approach, suggesting that the country learn to coexist with the coronavirus in line with other countries with relatively high vaccination rates.
On Sunday, however, China’s former health minister published a commentary in party mouthpiece People’s Daily attacking the idea of “coexisting with the virus,” potentially suggesting official resistance to the approach.
In the article, Gao Qiang, the former minister, accused the United States and the United Kingdom of “disregarding people’s health and safety” and causing a resurgence of outbreaks by relaxing Covid restrictions.
“We not only cannot relax epidemic control, but have to further strengthen weak links, plug loopholes, and resolutely monitor the epidemic situation and issue early warning. This is not to ‘coexist with the virus,’ but to engage in long-term struggle to eradicate the virus,” Gao said.
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