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Tale of Two Responses: China Tests ‘Zero Tolerance’ to Delta Variant as US Dodges New Lockdowns

© XinhuaA staff member transfers cases of drinks at the distribution center of a supermarket in Zhangjiajie, central China's Hunan Province, Aug. 5, 2021
A staff member transfers cases of drinks at the distribution center of a supermarket in Zhangjiajie, central China's Hunan Province, Aug. 5, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.08.2021
China has adopted a “zero tolerance” approach to new cases of the highly infective Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. As the country faces its largest outbreak in a year, their response is sharply contrasted by the US government’s, which won’t even consider lockdowns amid its own Delta-driven surge.
On Thursday, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported 124 new cases across the country, the most in a single day in more than a year, and three times what was reported on Wednesday.
The largest number of cases were reported in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, where fully half of cases have been found this week, and another 20% were reported in Nanjing, the nearby provincial capital. However, new cases have been reported in at least 40 cities and in 17 of China’s 33 provincial level administrative divisions.
In response to the rapidly rising cases, the Chinese government has cancelled most passenger travel into and out of certain hotspots, as well as the capital of Beijing, and implemented mass testing to track down all possible cases of the virus, according to Reuters.

Lockdowns, Accountability

Zhangjiajie, a city in Hunan province near a major tourist hub to which numerous cases have been traced recently, ordered a total lockdown on Tuesday, barring all 1.5 million residents from leaving their homes and travelers from leaving the city, providing all guests with free hotel stays. COVID-19 tests have been ordered for the entire city as well as many other cities where cases have been found, including the central transit hub of Wuhan, with a population of 11 million. 
As happened in Wuhan in early 2020, when the initial COVID-19 outbreak occurred, warehouses have swung into high gear, delivering essential goods such as food and medicine to locked-down residents’ homes, the Global Times reported.
The Global Times reported on Wednesday that 20 officials had been punished in Zhangjiajie for “slack response” to the outbreak, including Xu Xionghui, head of the Yongding district’s public health department.
Meanwhile, authorities continue to push the vaccination campaign forward. According to the NHC, on Friday, a cumulative total of 1.72 billion shots had been administered. Unfortunately, the metric gives no indication by itself of how many people have been fully vaccinated versus receiving just the first of two doses, but the AP reported that more than 40% of the country’s 1.4 billion people were fully protected.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, China has recorded a total of just 93,500 cases and 4,636 deaths, the vast majority of them during the first few months of the outbreak in 2019 and 2020, as a complete mass lockdown and rigorous tracing campaign totally snuffed out the virus in the country. 
The recent outbreak of the Delta variant in China has been traced to a single airliner flight from Moscow to Nanjing on July 10, which carried seven infected people on board.
By comparison, the US has recorded 35.6 million cases of COVID-19 and 615,000 deaths, according to CDC data - the most deaths of any country, officially, although the uncounted dead in India from a massive outbreak earlier this year is believed to top 1 million and might be as many as 5 million, according to one estimate.

US Relies on Vaccine to Blunt Outbreak

An outbreak of COVID-19 driven by the Delta variant is also exploding in the United States, but the government’s response couldn’t be more starkly different from China’s.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 120,000 new cases of COVID-19 nationwide on Thursday, part of a sharp increase from just 11,000 cases a month prior. However, both federal and state governments have remained hostile to the idea of new lockdowns after the country opened up in the late spring amid rapidly declining cases and rising vaccination rates. 
Instead, officials have put their entire faith in vaccination, despite growing evidence that fully vaccinated people are still capable of being infected by and spreading the Delta variant, albeit at much reduced rates compared to unvaccinated people.
On Friday, the CDC reported that 50% of the US population had been fully vaccinated and that since some moderate responses began last week, such as cities like Washington, DC, beginning new indoor mask mandates, and companies and government agencies introducing or considering vaccination requirements for employees, daily vaccination rates have increased somewhat. Still, in some of the hardest hit areas of the US, vaccination rates are as low as 35%, while the highest vaccination rates in states like Vermont approach 75% of the population.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned of the problem’s danger last month, saying it was creating a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
He said that enough people have been vaccinated that a lockdown was unnecessary, but added it wasn’t “enough to crush the outbreak, but I believe enough to not allow us to get into the situation we were in last winter," when at its worst, more than 300,000 new cases and more than 4,000 deaths were being reported daily and nearly 100,000 Americans died in January 2021 alone.
"We have 100 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not getting vaccinated," said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Contempt for Public Health

In some areas of the country, public health measures become part of the partisan battlefield and conservative politicians, posturing against the liberal administration of US President Joe Biden, have not just expressed their contempt for mask mandates, vaccinations, and lockdowns, but taken formal legal and executive action to prevent them. 
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed the slogan “Don’t Fauci My Florida,” boasted of the money saved by ending lockdowns early, and issued an executive order blocking schools from requiring children to wear masks; in Texas, Governor Mark Abbott threatened to sue the city government in the capital of Austin if it attempted to extend a government mask mandate and later issued an executive order banning pandemic mandates altogether; in Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson is now expressing regret after having signed an anti-mask law back in April.
"The silver lining of this is that people are waking up to this, and this may be a tipping point for those who have been hesitant," NIH Director Francis Collins told CNN on Sunday. "That's what desperately needs to happen if we're going to get this Delta variant put back in its place, because right now it's having a pretty big party in the middle of the country."
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