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'Stealth omicron' fueling China's biggest COVID-19 outbreak since 2020

Virus China COVID-19 stealth omicron
Posted at 11:27 AM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 11:27:13-04

BEIJING — The "stealth omicron" variant is fueling China's biggest COVID-19 outbreak in two years, with 1,337 local cases tallied across the mainland on Monday.

The majority were in far northeastern Jilin province, which banned most people from leaving the province and mobilized military reservists to help keep order and get residents tested.

In Shanghai, authorities are locking down individual buildings rather than the whole city, but cases are rising.

Numbers in mainland China are still low relative to Europe, the U.S., or even the city of Hong Kong. But China had seen very few infections since its strict Wuhan lockdown two years ago.

The outbreak is being fueled by the BA.2 version of the omicron variant, a strain that scientists say is "stealthier" than the variant that led to the record spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. in January. While the BA.2 variant is widespread in Asia and Europe, CBS News reports that it has yet to take hold in the U.S., and scientists are hopeful that a previous omicron infection will offer some immunity to the new variant.

China's government is maintaining its zero-tolerance strategy to stop the virus quickly with lockdowns and quarantines.

Stock markets were rattled by the shutdown of Shenzhen in the south, a tech and finance hub, and Changchun, an auto center in the northeast.

Economists say smartphone makers and other industries can use factories and suppliers in other parts of China. But a bigger threat looms if controls are extended to nearby ports that link Chinese factories at the center of global manufacturing networks with foreign suppliers and markets.