China is pushing a dubious study that claims an unmasked runner infected nearly 40 people with COVID on a half-hour jog through the park — despite experts worldwide downplaying the risk of outdoor spread.
The starting claim comes as China has enforced controversial lockdowns across the country to stop the spread of the virus.
In the November report, the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed that “Patient Zero” jogged through a local park in the Chongqing municipality back in August and potentially exposed the virus to approximately 2,836 people and infected 39 with the virus.
The 41-year-old man had gone for the run on Aug. 16, 2022, not knowing he had the virus after flying back to Chongqing three days earlier.
Earlier that week, the plane transported four passengers who unknowingly had COVID, and was not disinfected before “Patient Zero” flew from Hohhot to Chongqing.
According to the report, a total of 39 people tested positive for COVID, including 33 park visitors and two park cleaners. The employees then passed on the virus to four colleagues.
Physician and epidemiologist Dr. Bob Morris shared the new report’s findings to Twitter, saying there was “overwhelming evidence of outdoor transmission of Omicron.”
He added: “Nothing beats a surveillance state for contact tracing.”
But other experts expressed skepticism over the findings, noting that the scientists had not presented any evidence that the cases came from the same source.
“If they had sequence data that showed 29 cases had identical genomes to ‘patient zero,’ that would suggest that all the cases came from a single source,” University of Saskatchewan virologist Angela Rasmussen told Ars Technica.
Dr. Muge Cevik, a top infectious disease doctor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, has previously advised that “outdoor brief contact” carries a low risk of spreading the virus.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also acknowledged that the “risk of outdoor transmission is low.”
China’s Xi Jinping has faced insurmountable public anger over his “zero COVID” strategy. The country has been rocked by days-long protests following a deadly fire Thursday in the far western Xinjiang region, in which rescue efforts were reportedly hampered by COVID restrictions.
Demonstrators poured into the streets over the weekend in protest of the COVID laws, with some chanting for Jinping’s resignation.
Video of the protests were quickly scrubbed from the Internet, prompting some university students to begin holding blank sheets of paper when taking to the streets, knowing that messages might be censored online.