Hong Kong (CNN) — China has punished more than 40 local officials for failing to control an outbreak of the delta variant, as authorities struggle to stem the worst resurgence of Covid-19 the country has seen in more than a year.
The current outbreak, which first emerged in the eastern city of Nanjing, has spread to more than half of China’s 31 provinces and caused more than 1,000 symptomatic infections in three weeks, according to a CNN tally of reports. newspapers of the National Health Commission.
Authorities were quick to impose strict lockdowns, mass testing, extensive quarantine and travel restrictions – a manual it has used previously to quickly crack down on sporadic outbreaks.
These measures have been implemented on a scale and intensity never seen before in China since the initial outbreak in early 2020. Those officials who did not implement the measures quickly or comprehensively now face disciplinary action.
Across the country, at least 47 officials, ranging from heads of local governments, health commissions, hospitals and airports, have been sanctioned for negligence, according to official statements and state media reports.
In Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, 15 officials were held responsible for allowing infections to spread at Nanjing Lukou International Airport, according to a statement from the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) of the Communist Party.
The airport is where the outbreak is believed to have started, and nine cleaners were found to be infected on July 20 during a routine coronavirus test. Authorities linked the group of infections to a flight from Russia that arrived on July 10.
Three airport officials are under investigation by provincial disciplinary authorities and two of them have been detained. Others, including the vice mayor of Nanjing, have received sanctions ranging from suspension to severe warnings, according to the statement.
In Zhangjiajie, a tourist hotspot in southern Henan province famous for its pillar-shaped karst formations that inspired the movie Avatar, 18 officials were punished for their negligence in dealing with the outbreak, according to another CCDI statement. .
The city of Zhangjiajie was placed under total lockdown last month after a theater performance attended by thousands of people raised concerns about a wide-spread event linked to the Nanjing group.
The city of Yangzhou, in neighboring Nanjing, has become a hotspot for covid. As of Tuesday, it has reported 394 symptomatic infections, including 26 “severe cases” and six patients who are critically ill.
On Sunday, Yangzhou’s disciplinary commission issued warnings to six officials and criticized two others for mishandling a mass testing site, causing the virus to spread among those tested. So far, the group of infections has caused more than 30 infections, according to state media.
China’s “zero tolerance” covid strategy has put local governments under enormous pressure to keep the virus at bay, and a large number of officials have been sanctioned during previous rounds of local outbreaks.
However, the highly infectious delta variant has cast doubt on China’s zero covid strategy, raising uncertainty about how sustainable the approach is.
In recent weeks, some prominent Chinese public health experts have called for a shift in focus, 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 posted a comment in the party spokesperson 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 “ignoring people’s health and safety” and causing a resurgence of outbreaks by relaxing covid-19 restrictions.
“Not only can we not relax control of the epidemic, but we must further strengthen the weak links, plug the gaps and resolutely monitor the epidemic situation and issue an early warning. This is not to ‘coexist with the virus’, but to participate in a long-term fight to eradicate the virus, “Gao said.