Wuhan: Delta variant epidemic hits Chinese city, causing mass tests on 11 million people

China is grappling with its worst outbreak in months, with more than 300 cases detected in more than two dozen cities across the country. The country now has 144 medium and high risk areas, the highest number since the initial outbreak in early 2020, the National Health Commission said on Wednesday.

The speed and scale of the spread has resulted in mass restrictions on domestic travel, with all online intercity bus, taxi and car services suspended in medium and high risk areas. Chinese immigration authorities have also pledged to “strictly restrict non-urgent and unnecessary cross-border travel,” including by strengthening the issuance of passports for Chinese citizens.

As of Monday, seven infections were reported among migrant workers in Wuhan, the city in central China where the coronavirus was first detected in December 2019. As of Wednesday, a total of 20 local infections were reported, including 8 cases asymptomatic, according to Hubei. provincial health commission.
The city of 11 million people was placed under the world’s first and arguably the strictest coronavirus lockdown in January 2020, at the height of its devastating initial outbreak. The crippling 76-day lockdown came at a huge personal cost to residents, but ultimately succeeded in taming the virus. Wuhan had not reported any locally transmitted cases since May of last year.
Despite the initial mismanagement, the Chinese government has touted Wuhan as an achievement in its fight against the pandemic. In August 2020, when much of the world grappled with Covid-19, Wuhan made international headlines when it hosted an electronic music festival in an outdoor water park, with thousands of people attending. people partying without any masks or social distancing measures in sight.

But now the highly contagious Delta variant has put authorities on high alert.

Wuhan launched a city-wide coronavirus testing campaign on Tuesday, with residents lining up long lines at community testing sites late in the evening. The city also suspended 17 bus lines and closed a number of metro stations.
Some fear the return of strict confinement. Videos and photos shared on social media Monday show empty shelves and long queues at supermarkets, as residents rushed to stock up daily.
“Seeing the people of Wuhan panicking while shopping in supermarkets makes me sad. Only those who have experienced it understand how terrible it is, (we) dread a return to the days of staying at home and not didn’t know where the next meal was, ”a Wuhan resident told Chinese microblogging Weibo.
During Wuhan’s initial lockdown, millions of residents were ordered to stay at home, relying on officials and volunteers for daily necessities – often at a higher price.
No city-wide lockdown was announced for Wuhan on Wednesday, although residential complexes linked to the detected cases were placed under targeted lockdown.

Spiral epidemic

The ongoing outbreak first started in Nanjing, east China’s Jiangsu Province, where nine airport cleaners were found to be infected on July 20 during a routine test. Chinese authorities linked the cluster to a flight from Russia, which arrived at Nanjing Lukou International Airport on July 10.
“It is believed that the cleaners did not strictly follow anti-epidemic guidelines after cleaning up flight CA910 and contracted the virus as a result. The infection then spread to other colleagues, who are also responsible for the cleaning and transporting garbage on international and domestic flights, ”the state news agency Xinhua reported.

Since then, the cluster has expanded to at least 26 cities, including the tourist hotspot of Zhangjiajie and the capital Beijing.

In just two weeks, China has reported more than 480 locally transmitted confirmed cases, according to a CNN tally of daily reports from the National Health Commission.

So far, not all infections have been directly linked to the Nanjing cluster. As of Monday, 63 local infections, including 50 asymptomatic cases, were reported in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan Province which was ravaged by deadly flooding last month. Most cases are linked to an outbreak in a hospital, where janitors, medical staff and patients are among those infected. The city launched city-wide testing on Sunday.

The fast-spreading Delta variant posed a major challenge to China’s zero Covid strategy, which relies on mass testing, targeted lockdowns, in-depth contact tracing and strict quarantine measures to quickly suppress local outbreaks.

Delta variant challenges China's zero Covid strategy - and raises questions about its vaccine's effectiveness

China has responded by doubling down on its containment approach, adopting tough measures on a scale not seen in months. Several towns have been put under effective lockdown, ordering residents to stay at home and canceling flights and trains.

The country has also imposed massive travel restrictions nationwide. All provincial authorities have urged citizens not to travel to medium and high risk areas or to leave the provinces where they live, unless it is strictly necessary.

The Chinese government is particularly concerned about the spread of the virus in Beijing, which is expected to host the Winter Olympics in February next year. The city has reported a handful of cases since last week – its first coronavirus resurgence in months.

Authorities in Beijing have banned people from medium and high risk areas from entering, suspending flights, trains and buses from places affected by Covid. Since Tuesday, 23 stations have halted the sale of tickets for train trips to the capital, Xinhua reported.

Chinese authorities are also tightening restrictions on cross-border travel. China is still largely closed to the outside world, and those allowed in are subject to a lengthy hotel quarantine.

At a press conference on Wednesday, an official from the National Immigration Administration said authorities would stop issuing travel documents, such as passports, to Chinese citizens who wish to leave China for reasons. ” non-urgent and unnecessary “. People who need to travel abroad for study, work or business purposes will still be issued travel documents upon approval, he added.

Mahjong lounges

China reported 71 locally transmitted confirmed cases on Wednesday, nearly half of which were from Jiangsu province, according to the National Health Commission. Yangzhou city, neighboring Nanjing, became the last hotspot, reporting 32 local infections.
Authorities blamed the outbreak in Yangzhou on a 70-year-old Nanjing resident, who traveled to Yangzhou on July 21 after her residence in Nanjing was placed under control, according to a statement from the Yangzhou police.

The elderly woman, who stayed in Yangzhou with her sister, did not notify local authorities of her trips as required and repeatedly visited crowded places, including restaurants, markets and mahjong lounges. , according to the press release.

The woman sought treatment at a hospital on July 27 after she started coughing and developed a fever, and tested positive for the coronavirus a day later. She has been criminally detained by police and is under investigation for alleged obstruction of infectious disease prevention and control, the statement said.

Mahjong lounges, popular with older people, have played a central role in the spread of Covid in Yangzhou, authorities say. Jiangsu officials said at a press conference on Wednesday that 64% of Yangzhou’s 94 confirmed cases on Tuesday were linked to Mahjong parlors, and 68% of confirmed cases are over 60 years old.

Yangzhou and Nanjing have conducted several rounds of city-wide tests and suspended all domestic flights, long-distance buses, taxis, and arrival and departure line car services.

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