Even as officials began offering a mix of carrot-and-stick incentives, older people held out. As of early May, 82 percent of those over age 60 had received two shots, compared with 89 percent in the general population. Among the oldest Chinese, rates were far lower: 51 percent of those over 80 had received two shots in March, the last time the central government released those numbers.
Recent outbreaks have shown how dangerous low vaccination rates can be. In Hong Kong, the semiautonomous city, an outbreak earlier this year made the city’s coronavirus death rate the world’s highest for a time because of the large number of unvaccinated older people. Deaths in Shanghai, which endured mainland China’s worst outbreak since early 2020, were also concentrated in older residents. In late April, 62 percent of Shanghai residents over 60 had received two shots and 38 percent had received a booster.
Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Omicron variant has continued to evade China’s goal of elimination.
Cases have begun rising in Shanghai again, a month after its two-month lockdown ended, with dozens of new cases reported on Wednesday. Officials launched new rounds of mass testing in most of the city’s districts, leading some residents to fear a fresh lockdown. In the western city of Xi’an, schools and many businesses have been closed after a flare-up. And the semiautonomous city of Macau, the casino hub in the south, locked down a hotel and closed a large shopping mall to contain an outbreak there.