Authorities in east China's Zhejiang are making all-out efforts to contain the latest COVID-19 outbreak while mitigating its impact on manufacturing and business activities.
The Chinese mainland on December 14 reported 50 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, of which 45 were in Zhejiang Province, said the National Health Commission (NHC). The province had registered 235 confirmed locally transmitted cases as of 4 p.m. on December 14, in the latest resurgence since Dec. 5.
Zhejiang is an economic and exports hub and a powerhouse in China. It saw its gross domestic product grow to more than 6.46 trillion yuan (about 1 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2020. The province's exports accounted for 14 percent of the country's total.
Medical workers prepare for nucleic acid test at a testing site in Zhenhai District of Ningbo City, east China's Zhejiang Province, on December 12, 2021. (XINHUA)
All the cases in Zhejiang were reported in three cities -- the provincial capital of Hangzhou, neighboring Shaoxing, which houses many leading chemical plants, and Ningbo, one of the busiest ports in China.
The epidemic in Shaoxing, by far the hardest-hit city, was caused by people who became infected while attending a funeral early this month, said Zhu Runye, deputy secretary-general of the Shaoxing municipal government. Zhu added that these include a vegetable vendor at a food market who caused cross infections among buyers and market management staff.
"Infected cases are on a plateau in Shaoxing," said Xia Shichang, deputy head of Zhejiang's provincial health commission. "We expect to eliminate new cases in a week and contain the outbreak by the end of the month."
Authorities in the Shangyu district of Shaoxing have initiated its highest-level emergency response and put several areas under closed-loop management. All enterprises in the areas, except for those involved in epidemic control and people's livelihood, have been suspended.
Staff members check vehicle information at an expressway exit in Shangyu District of Shaoxing, east China's Zhejiang Province, on December 14, 2021. (XINHUA)
Starting from Dec. 7, the Zhenhai district of Ningbo, a pivotal distribution base of bulk liquid chemicals, was put under closed-loop management after a residential area and an electronic firm there were listed as medium-risk areas.
To stabilize the production and supply chains of chemical plants, authorities in Zhenhai have issued special passes for them to ship out products and opened temporary cargo transport routes by train.
"We issue about 150 special passes every day, which can meet the needs of raw material transport," said Zheng Xiaoyan, a director with Sinopec Zhenhai Refining & Chemical Company.
Ningbo's maritime authorities have streamlined the approval process of cargo ships and opened fast tracks to ensure smooth docking and unloading of cargo ships.
"While implementing epidemic control measures, we are also trying to ensure regular port operation," said Dai Dongqi, an official with Ningbo Maritime Safety Administration.
On the government side, commerce authorities in Zhejiang are swiftly identifying threats the epidemic may pose on the production and supply chains and responding to the needs of export-oriented companies affected by the epidemic.
"As soon as the situation gets better, we will do our utmost to help trade-dependent companies in the affected areas resume production and operation," said Li Lin, an official with the provincial department of commerce.
"Policy-wise, we are mulling a slew of measures, including financial relief, tax breaks, and credit insurance, to help companies address unbalanced international logistics, cost hikes, labor shortages, and other problems," Li added.
Nationwide, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on the Chinese mainland has posed new challenges to the country's epidemic control efforts.
COVID-19 cases involving Omicron have been detected in north China's port city of Tianjin and south China's Guangdong Province, another economic and exports hub.
Wu Liangyou, deputy head of the disease control and prevention division of the NHC, said China's health authorities are keeping a close eye on the latest research on the variant and making relevant judgments accordingly.
"At present, the Omicron variant does not affect the sensitivity and specificity of the existing nucleic acid detection reagents in China," said Wu. "The monitoring system in China can find the imported cases of the variant in time."