Armed police in Jingxi, in southern China, have paraded four alleged violators of Covid rules through the streets, state media reported, a practice that was banned but which has resurfaced in the struggle to enforce a zero-Covid policy.
The four men were accused of smuggling people across China’s closed borders, and on Tuesday they were led through the streets wearing hazmat suits and bearing placards showing their name and photos. The state-run Guangxi daily reported the action was designed to deter “border-related crimes”.
A common practice during the Cultural Revolution, public shaming has long since been banned in China, and the Communist party-affiliated Beijing News said the Jingxi incident “seriously violates the spirit of the rule of law and cannot be allowed to happen again”.
The Global Times newspaper said that the courts and the Ministry of Public Security had issued various orders since the 1980s to ban the parading of criminal suspects, noting that officials themselves could now be punished. The most recent notice was issued by the ministry in February last year after a man in Hebei Province was tied to a tree for going out to buy cigarettes during lockdown.
Social media posts on the topic had received more than 350m views and more than 30,000 comments by Wednesday night, it reported.
China is taking strict measures, including sweeping lockdowns affecting millions of citizens, to deal with a rise in cases. The nation reported 203 new daily cases on Wednesday, and one of the world’s largest memory chip makers, Micron Technology, said that ongoing restrictions in the city of Xi’an could lead to delays in the global supply of its DRAM memory chips.
The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, has cautioned against reducing Covid isolation times as a “tsunami” of cases driven by the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm health systems around the world.
The highly transmissible variant propelled the US, France and Denmark to fresh records on Wednesday, with AFP’s tally of 6.55 million infections reported globally in the space of seven days through to Tuesday, demonstrating the unprecedented spread.
The figures were the highest since the WHO declared a pandemic in March 2020, underscoring the blistering pace of Omicron transmission, with tens of millions of people facing a second consecutive year of restrictions dampening New Year’s Eve celebrations.
“I am highly concerned that Omicron, being more transmissible, circulating at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is and will continue to put immense pressure on exhausted health workers, and health systems on the brink of collapse.”
The surge, currently worst in Europe, is forcing governments to walk a tightrope between imposing restrictions designed to stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and the need to keep economies and societies open two years after the virus first emerged in late 2019.
Spain said it would shorten the quarantine for positive cases from 10 to seven days, after US health authorities on Monday halved the recommended isolation time for people with asymptomatic infections from 10 to five days.
The WHO’s guidelines on quarantine are, for symptomatic patients, 10 days after symptom onset, plus at least three additional days without symptoms; and for asymptomatic cases, 10 days after a positive test.
“There is some data to suggest that the incubation period for Omicron may be shorter, but there will still be a very wide range,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a news conference. “It would be advisable at this point if we don’t see huge shifts, huge moves in reducing control measures for Covid-19 purely on the basis of initial or preliminary studies.
Ryan described “a trade-off between the science and being absolutely perfect in what you try to do, but then having the minimal disruption that you can possibly have to your economy and society – and governments are struggling to find that balance”.
The US, where Omicron is already overwhelming hospitals, recorded its highest-ever seven-day average of new cases at 265,427, according Johns Hopkins University.
Harvard epidemiologist and immunologist Michael Mina tweeted that the count was probably just the “tip of the iceberg” with the true number of cases likely far higher, because of a shortage of tests.
But the country also appears to be experiencing a decoupling between infections and severe outcomes compared to previous waves, officials noted, as evidence accumulates of milder cases under the new variant.
France registered a new daily record of more than 200,000 cases – more than double the number recorded on Christmas Day – and extended into January the closure of nightclubs.
French police said that wearing face masks outdoors will become compulsory again in Paris from Friday for everyone over age 11 except those inside vehicles, cyclists, users of two-wheeled transport such as scooters, and those participating in sports.
Denmark, which has the world’s highest rate of infection per person, recorded a fresh record of 23,228 new infections, which authorities attributed in part to the large number of tests carried out after Christmas celebrations.
Portugal also saw a record with nearly 27,000 cases reported in 24 hours, while Lebanon had 3,150 new infections – its highest daily tally since vaccines rolled out earlier this year.
The number of people in hospital with Covid in England topped 10,000, the highest total since March, as Britain hit a new record of 183,037 daily cases in the last 24 hours.
Studies suggest Omicron, now the dominant strain in some countries, carries a reduced risk of sending those infected to hospital, but the WHO still urged caution.
More than 5.4 million people around the world have died from Covid-19, but over the last week the number of deaths averaged 6,450 a day, an AFP tally found, the lowest since October 2020.
In Europe, where more than 3.5 million cases have been recorded in the last seven days, Greece banned music in bars and restaurants until 16 January, including on New Year’s Eve while Cyprus banned dancing in public venues.
Germany has put restrictions on sports competitions and shut nightclubs, limiting private gatherings to 10 vaccinated people.
Mexico City’s mayor cancelled the capital’s massive New Year’s Eve celebrations after a rise in cases.
In Ukraine, three people died after a candle lit by a hospital employee in memory of a patient who died of the virus started a fire in an intensive care unit in the western town of Kosiv.