In the battle against the coronavirus, few places seemed as confident of victory as China.

The country of 1.4 billion people had eradicated the virus so quickly that it was one of the first in the world to open up in spring last year. People removed their masks and gathered for pool parties. In recent months, the government has contended with sporadic outbreaks in various provinces, but stamped them out swiftly by mobilizing thousands of people to test and trace infections, as well as locking down communities.

That model is now looking increasingly fragile.

China is facing its biggest challenge since the virus first erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year: the highly transmissible Delta variant that is rapidly spreading throughout the country. Chinese officials have acknowledged that curbing this outbreak will be much harder than the others, owing to the fast and asymptomatic spread of the variant.

While the number of cases are still relatively low compared to the United States and elsewhere, these new outbreaks — happening in cities such as Nanjing, Wuhan, Yangzhou and Zhangjiajie — are showcasing the limitations of China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid. They may also undermine the ruling Communist Party’s argument that its authoritarian style has been an unquestionable success in the pandemic.

had to stamp out a Delta flare-up in June in Guangdong Province, authorities this time are dealing with a much larger spread. Since the current Delta outbreak started on July 21, the number of cases has

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