This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Authorities in the central Chinese city of Wuhan — where the coronavirus pandemic first emerged in late 2019 — on Tuesday announced mass COVID-19 testing amid a resurgence of cases.
Health authorities said they would launch a mass PCR testing program in the city of 11 million people after three cases were confirmed in the community on Monday.
While quick lockdowns and rapid mass testing have kept COVID-19 more or less under control in China since the pandemic spread to the rest of the world, a surge in the Delta variant of the virus appears to be evading homegrown vaccines.
China’s National Health Commission reported 90 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, of which 61 were transmitted in the community and 29 imported from overseas.
Much of the community transmission is taking place in the eastern province of Jiangsu following an outbreak at the Nanjing Lukou Internation Airport that spread to dozens of locations across China.
While more than 1.6 billion vaccine doses have been given so far, only Chinese-made jabs are available to the population, and scientists fear they may be relatively ineffective against the highly contagious Delta variant.
Wuhan resident Zhang Lun said that more than a dozen residential communities are currently under total lockdown, with panic buying leading to empty shelves in some stores in the city.
“They’ve locked down Jianghan Road and a dozen or so other neighborhoods,” Zhang said. “I’m at home right now and I can’t go out.”
“The supermarkets have sold out of a lot of stuff because people are afraid of being locked down [without enough to eat],” he said. “The prices charged by the stallholders selling produce have gone up, but supermarkets aren’t allowed to put prices up.”
“My wife works in a supermarket and they have received a directive from the government saying that no stores are allowed to put prices up,” he said.
Migrant worker is first new case
Social media users posted dozens of photos of empty shelves from Wuhan stores, with supplies of eggs, frozen foods and vegetables sold out.
“There are a lot of people out buying stuff at the same time, so everything will sell out,” he said. “It’s really important to lay in a store of food at home.”
“The people of Wuhan know what to expect because they have been through the pandemic before … there is almost nobody riding the subway right now,” he said.
The Wuhan Epidemic Prevention and Control Center issued a notice early on Tuesday designating the area around Zhuankou Street as a medium-risk zone, while other risk levels remained unchanged.
The first person to test positive in Wuhan in the recent outbreak was a migrant worker surnamed Tang who was working on a construction site in the area. The other six cases in the area shared a dorm room with Tang, it said.
Anyone living in a medium-risk area must stay home, with only a single person per household permitted to buy supplies at a designated time.
An Wuhan resident surnamed Zhao said there is an atmosphere of anxiety in the city.
“We have had seven confirmed cases, and the city is now under lockdown,” Zhao said. “This disease is highly contagious, and people are rushing to buy food at the supermarkets.”
Supermarket officials later issued a statement assuring the public that supplies will be reinforced.