Tourism affected by Covid resurgence in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hainan; new Langya virus discovered in Shandong and Henan

Last week, China's major Covid-19 hotspots were located in Hainan, Tibet and Xinjiang, which are also major tourism destinations. Lockdowns were imposed in Urumqi (Xinjiang) and Lhasa, Shigatse and Nagari (Tibet), trapping thousands of tourists in a seven-day quarantine, as tourists who had been stranded in Hainan started returning home. Since this wave of sudden flare-ups comes at a time when the nation's tourism sector is at its annual peak, it has halted trips by millions of tourists. The total of daily symptomatic and asymptomatic cases in 17 provinces now surpasses 2,000. Hainan reported 1,340 cases on August 14, followed by Tibet and Xinjiang with 502 and 398 positive cases respectively, according to the National Health Commission (NHC).

The Covid-19 cases detected in Lhasa were believed to be a family cluster infection caused by the imported Omicron subvariant BA.2.76. The youngest patient is two and a half, and the eldest 76 year. World Heritage sites the Potala Palace and Norbulingka, as well as the Tibet Museum in Lhasa, were temporarily closed to visitors. Tibet had only had one single case back in 2020. Treating Covid-19 patients in Tibet is more complicated due to the high altitude and low oxygen level in the air. Three makeshift hospitals were set up in Lhasa, Shigatse and Qamdo with 4,004 beds to take in asymptomatic and mild cases. Elderly people and those with severe symptoms and underlying diseases will be treated in seven designated hospitals across the region. Shigatse has been locked down for at least six days. Lhasa has locked down high- and medium-risk areas of the city.

In Xinjiang the number of cases exceeded a total of 500 in at least 20 counties and prefectures. The outbreak was traced to imported goods. Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited Hainan and stressed the need for rapid, solid Covid-19 control work to achieve zero transmission in communities as soon as possible. The Hainan provincial health commission said that as of August 13, the numbers of confirmed and asymptomatic cases in Sanya had surged to 3,000 and 3,544, respectively. Noting the shortage of isolation and medical resources, Sun urged the local government to use hotels and to speed up the construction of makeshift hospitals to ensure those infected and their close contacts are properly isolated. The central government has arranged for 17,383 medical personnel and facilities from 20 provincial-level areas to help with the work in Hainan, where outbreaks have occurred in 13 cities and counties. As of August 13, Hainan had registered 3,809 confirmed and 3,927 asymptomatic cases since August 1. The outbreak has stranded about 150,000 tourists on the island, some of whom have meanwhile left for home.

In Shanghai, primary and secondary schools and kindergartens will reopen on September 1. All faculty and students need to take two nucleic acid tests in three days before returning to school, including one taken within 24 hours before their return. Every day, they also need to take a nucleic acid test before leaving school. Travelers returning from Hainan will have to undergo a three-day home quarantine and another four days of health monitoring after arriving in Shanghai. The city has arranged 30 flights to pick up more than 5,000 travelers stranded in Hainan.

China’s first domestically developed Covid-19 antiviral medicine has been shipped to regions coping with virus flareups. The oral drug Azvudine is priced at CNY270, containing 35 one-milligram tablets, said Genuine Biotech, which is based in Pingdingshan, Henan province. Henan, which is battling sporadic infections, along with Hainan and Xinjiang, which are experiencing new outbreaks, were among the first to receive the drug. Azvudine obtained emergency use authorization from the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA), China’s top drug regulator, on July 25, and was included in the latest Covid-19 diagnosis and treatment guideline on August 9. The guideline stipulates that the drug will be used to treat adult Covid-19 patients with moderate symptoms. Each patient will take 5 mg per day and each course of treatment will last no longer than 14 days, which would cost CNY540 yuan at most. The facility’s annual production capacity currently stands at 1 billion tablets and is expected to reach 3 billion tablets.

After a hiatus of more than two years, more international flights to and from China restarted this month after the country’s aviation regulator decided to relax rules, raising hopes for the recovery of a sector hurt by Covid-19 and subsequent losses, industry experts said. Direct flights between China and the United Kingdom resumed on August 11 after a gap of more than 18 months, following negotiations between the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the UK’s Department for Transport. Air China took the lead by restarting direct flights between Beijing and London, followed by China Eastern Airlines that relaunched services from Shanghai to London, while China Southern Airlines announced flights from Guangzhou to London from August 17. Flights to other European destinations also resumed. Hainan Airlines announced the restoration of direct flights between Beijing and Berlin on August 12. The CAAC said that any flight with five Covid-19 cases will be suspended for one week when the confirmed cases account for 4% of all those onboard, and for two weeks when the confirmed cases account for 8% of those on board, which is a relaxation from previous measures. The number of international passenger flights surged about 30% in July but are a mere 3% of the pre-pandemic level.

China's economy is still suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic measures as industrial production rose by only 3.8% in July from a year earlier, while retail sales grew by 2.7%, well below an expected 5.3% and down from 3.1% in June. Fixed-asset investments rose by 5.7% in the January-July period, while the surveyed jobless rate stood at 5.4% in July

A new Langya henipavirus that can infect humans has been found in Shandong and Henan provinces in patients who had contacts with animals, but it has not yet been determined whether the virus is capable of human-to-human transmission. Patients have symptoms including fever, fatigue, cough, anorexia, myalgia, and nausea. The virus belongs to the same category as the hendra and nipah viruses. They are classified as biosafety Level 4 viruses with case fatality rates between 40% and 75%, much higher than the fatality rate of the coronavirus. There is currently no vaccine or treatment.

This overview is based on reports by the China Daily, Shanghai Daily, Global Times and South China Morning Post.