Isolated. China is Last Country Still Chasing Covid Zero

Amer Asia ReportLockdown in New Zealand failed to get infections back to zero.......................... Delta has defeated places that previously eliminated the virus......................... For much of the pandemic, a group of places in the Asia-Pacific brought infections to zero, becoming virus-free havens in a world ravaged by the pathogen. Now, with the rise of the delta variant and the proliferation of vaccines, only one is still holding fast to that goal of eliminating Covid-19: China. With New Zealand preparing to shift away from the zero-tolerance strategy, China's isolation is complete, raising the stakes on how long it can stick to a playbook that requires closed borders, abrupt lockdowns, and repeated disruption of social and economic activity. One by one, Covid Zero places like Singapore and Australia have decided that the approach is unsustainable, pivoting instead to vaccination to protect people from serious illness and death while easing off on attempts to control the number of infections. In contrast, China's resolve to stamp out every infection appears to have only grown stronger, though 75% of its vast population is fully vaccinated. The country is now grappling with its fourth delta-driven flareup in two months and this week locked down a prefecture in the western Xinjiang province over two asymptomatic infections during a peak tourism period. The Chinese territory of Hong Kong, which has so far avoided local transmission of delta, has also made clear that its status as a global financial hub is less important than links to the mainland and the joint goal of elimination. The task is likely to get even harder as cold weather -- the conditions in which the virus spreads best -- descends. In three months, Beijing will host the Winter Olympics, welcoming thousands of athletes from around the world. The question is now what China's exit strategy will look like. It reported two new local cases on Oct. 5, one in each of the outbreaks - in Harbin and Xinjian - that are currently underway. In the most recent flareup in Xinjiang, tens of thousands of residents are being tested, while Yining city has halted all trains and flights and closed the local highways, The Paper reported. Achieving elimination allowed life in China to be largely normal through most of 2020 and 2021, powering its economy even as most others were sapped by mitigation measures of various efficacy. But as its snap lockdowns and restrictions on movement continue through this year -- and western economies resume full operations after vaccination -- the impact is starting to show more deeply. Retail sales growth slowed to 2.5% in August from a year earlier, falling far short of the 7% expansion estimated by analysts. The Best and Worst Places to Be as We Learn to Live With Delta Regardless of China's tolerance for the approach, some experts say that Covid-free havens may yet return. Governments like New Zealand could resurrect the goal if and when new medical options become available. "Maybe we are reaching the limits of what we can do with our current tools to eliminate transmission," said Baker, who believes a Covid Zero strategy is still on the table. "We could find that the next generation of Covid vaccines or anti-virals are so effective that they can eliminate the virus quite effectively." - With assistance by Matthew Brockett, and Winnie Zhu --- *edited for format and space only, AmerAsia Report.

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