Despite China's success in reining in COVID-19 cases, a recent outbreak in Guangdong, China's most populous province, has apparently spread even further despite lockdown measures that were first imposed in late May, before being tightened earlier this month. And on Monday, Reuters reported that despite these restrictions, the outbreak has spread to the manufacturing hub of Dongguan, which is also situated in Guangdong Province.
The city launched mass testing on Monday and even blocked off certain communities after detecting the first infections tied to the current outbreak. Officials have said that the "Delta" mutant strain - first discovered in India - has been driving the latest outbreak.
According to Reuters, Dongguan reported two cases since Friday. City authorities have told residents not to leave, except for "essential" reasons. Those who wish to leave must show negative test results from within the last 48 hours before departure.
Entrances to highways that would lead drivers to other cities were closed, while shuttle buses between airports in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and a check-in terminal in Dongguan, were also closed. Some museums and libraries in the city were also closed to visitors. Factories were still running, however.
"(Workers) need to do COVID tests, but it's not a prerequisite for them to be able to enter factories," said King Lau, who helps manage a metal coating factory.
"My staff will do (their COVID tests) after work, although there will be long queues."
In total, Guangdong has reported 168 confirmed infections since May 21, with nearly 90% of the cases tied to its capital, Guangzhou.
The outbreak is smaller than earlier clusters found elsewhere in China. A prior outbreak centered around Hebei, a region in northeastern China, recorded more than 1,150 infections between late December and early February. It marked the worst domestic outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late 2019.
Chinese officials said Guangzhou's battle against the Delta variant was a warning to other cities not to get complacent. Meanwhile, strict disinfection and quarantine measures implemented on May 21 have led to congestion of vessels waiting to berth in one of China's busiest container ports, Yantian International Container Terminal in Shenzhen, according to the NYT.
But the latest problem in Shenzhen, the world’s third-largest container port after Shanghai and Singapore, is making the difficulties even worse.
The shipping delays are related to the Chinese government’s stringent response to a recent outbreak of the virus. Shenzhen, a metropolis of more than 12 million, has had fewer than two dozen locally transmitted coronavirus cases, which city health officials have linked to the Alpha variant, which was first identified in Britain.
Shenzhen has responded by ordering five rounds of coronavirus testing of all 230,000 people who live anywhere near Yantian container port, where the first case was detected on May 21. All further contact between port employees and sailors has been banned. The city has required port employees to live in 216 hastily erected, prefabricated buildings at the docks instead of going home to their families every day.
If these delays continue, "the impact would be bigger than the Suez Canal incident," said Patrik Berglund, chief executive of Xeneta, an ocean freight rate benchmarking firm headquartered in Oslo.
As of Monday, 50 vessels were waiting outside the port, and more than 160 were being affected.
"We've seen exporters who cannot wait for the port congestion to ease turning to trucks to send the cargoes from China to Europe."
Right now, it's expected that normal operations will resume by end-June. Even as congestion at Yantian eases, traffic at the Shezhen port of Shekou and the main Guangzhou port of Nansha is expected to remain high.