COVID-Zero: This is how China rounds up thousands of people for quarantine

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Thousands of people in a village near the Chinese port city of Tianjin were ordered into government quarantine, with videos circulated on social media showing residents being marched through streets and onto buses as officials continue to deploy the country’s strict COVID-Zero playbook on new outbreaks.

Residents of Liuanzhuang village in northern Tianjin were ordered on Monday to pack their belongings and prepare to be transported into isolation centers, a voice can be heard saying over a loudspeaker in one of the videos, after dozens of COVID-19 cases were detected in their district. Footage shared on social media networks like Weibo and Twitter showed crowds of people, luggage in tow, walking toward or waiting in line for buses.


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Tianjin, home to northern China’s largest port, is seeing a new round of cases, raising concern the city that borders Beijing could see a return to disruption seen in January when the mass testing and restrictions triggered by a virus outbreak halted operations for global carmakers like Toyota Motor Corp.

The city carried out a mass testing campaign on Sunday, which discovered 22 positive cases, most of them in the Beichen district where Liuanzhuang village is located. Tianjin reported 55 local infections for Tuesday.

Calls to the Beichen district health center and the Xiaodian county clinic that services Liuanzhuang village were not picked up. Residents that shared videos of the mass transfer in Liuanzhuang village did not respond to messages sent on Douyin by Bloomberg News.

It’s estimated that between 10,000 to 30,000 residents of the village were put into quarantine, according to social media posts.

China remains staunchly committed to its zero-tolerance approach to Covid, even as highly contagious variants seed more frequent outbreaks, and as the rest of the world opens up.

The country’s borders remain closed and even small outbreaks trigger an outsized response, with officials having to step up their restrictions to be able to eliminate flareups.

The strategy is leaving China isolated and is exacting a growing toll on the economy and global supply chains.

After an intense, six-week lockdown where most residents were unable to leave their homes, even for groceries, Shanghai is just starting to ease restrictions.

While authorities have declared a halt to community spread in the metropolis of 25 million, the new flareups in Tianjin and in the southern Sichuan province -- which saw 201 infections Tuesday -- could see punishing restrictions deployed elsewhere.

China isolates all COVID-positive cases and their close contacts as a way of stemming transmission. The approach was successful in quashing the initial virus outbreak in Wuhan in 2020, but has proven more difficult to use successfully on strains like omicron. Scores of quarantine sites are being built throughout the country, and in Shanghai stadiums and convention centers were also converted into makeshift hospitals.

In 2021, more than 20,000 residents from over a dozen villages in Shijiazhuang, a city in China’s north, were moved into centralized quarantine as health officials worried that living conditions in the area would facilitate the spread of COVID-19.

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