900,000 Residents Forced Into Quarantine as COVID-19 Outbreak in China’s Dalian Worsens

By Sunny Chao | November 18, 2021
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Residents in Dalian, northeastern China, take COVID-19 nucleic acid testing in December, 2020. (Image: TPG/Getty Images)

The COVID-19 epidemic is spreading rapidly in China, especially in the port city of Dalian, located in China’s northeastern Liaoning Province. At least 315 people have been infected in the past 10 days.

Chinese Vice Premier and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo member Sun Chunlan visited Dalian on Nov. 13 and urged local officials to take prevention and containment work for the virus seriously, stressing that the “epidemic in Dalian is at its most critical point.”

All 900,000 residents of Zhuanghe, a suburb of Dalian, have been ordered into a 14-day quarantine. Households have had their doors sealed shut to prevent unauthorized exit.

The new outbreak quickly spread to at least 21 provinces in mid-October after numbers began quickly surging in the beginning of the month. 

The 21 provinces and provincial-level cities reporting new outbreaks include: Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Beijing, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Chongqing, Shanxi, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai.

As of Nov. 13, there were 1,350 confirmed cases, though as with previous outbreaks in China, the real figures are expected to be far higher. 

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) National Health Commission announced on Nov. 14 that there were 89 new cases confirmed the previous day, including 70 local cases scattered throughout Dalian, Liaoning Province. Data also showed three cases in Xinji city, Hebei Province, two in Shangrao city, Jiangxi Province, two in Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, and one in Chengdu city, Sichuan Province.

According to official PRC data, the epidemic in Dalian had nothing to do with a transmission chain brought by tourism; rather, at least 315 people were infected in Dalian across 10 days from Nov. 4 to Nov. 13.

As of the morning on Nov. 14, authorities in Dalian had adjusted two high-risk areas and designated 31 areas as medium-risk. 

Chinese expert: ‘Delta variant’ behind recent infections

Sun Ke, director at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Dalian City, analyzed the cause for the rapid increase of infections in Dalian. 

He pointed out two reasons. First, the Delta variant of COVID-19 responsible for the latest outbreak has a high reproduction rate and is highly infectious. More than 100 people were infected in just five days. The infection has therefore increased faster than normal, Sun said. 

In addition, according to various sources, most of the infected patients did not exhibit obvious symptoms at the early stage, further increasing the difficulty in containment. Most transmission chains were traced back to schools and family gatherings. Large food chains like Dalian Keqiang Food Co., Ltd., Haikuo Food Co., Ltd., and Shengfeng Market were mentioned as infection hubs.

According to Sun, the rapid uptick in infections came as a result of epidemic clustering and the presence of superspreaders. 

Source of outbreak unknown

State-run media CCTV pointed to Zhuanghe College Town as the epicenter of the latest outbreak.

(He didn’t mention CCTV in the later part, either.)

According to the available information from the outbreak, the first reported case of infection originated in Dalian after an employee at a cold storage facility in Zhuanghe city was confirmed with the virus. 

Dozens of employees at another food company were also confirmed. Later, college students were also found infected in the school cafeteria. In just 3 days from Nov. 11 to the 13th, 63 students and 4 faculty members tested positive in Zhuanghe College Town.

The acting mayor of Zhuanghe, Sun Gongli, notified the press on Nov. 14 that as of 8 a.m., 3,291 people were considered high-risk as they had come into contact with those who tested positive.

According to Sun, there are currently 14,662 students and 984 faculty staffed across two campuses in Zhuanghe College Town, highlighting the magnitude of the infection spread. The two campuses were locked down after the outbreak on Nov. 4. 

Students are now required to take a PCR test several times and classes are being held in school dorms for the time being. 

They were also not allowed to leave the dorms unless absolutely necessary. Daily supplies and meals were purchased by other people and brought to the students.

According to official accounts, there are 73 primary and middle schools in Zhuanghe City, with 50,500 enrolled students and more than 6,000 faculty members and staff. 

As of 8AM on Nov. 14, there were 5 positive cases, including 2 high school students and 3 elementary school students; 2 from rural schools and 3 from urban schools.

As for the source of the Delta variant spread in this rapidly developing Dalian epidemic, it has not yet been officially confirmed.