As health officials battled to stop the worst coronavirus epidemic in China, Chinese cities conducted mass testing on millions of people and imposed new travel restrictions.
China reported Sunday 75 new coronavirus infections, 53 of which were local. A cluster associated with an eastern airport is now believed to have spread to more than 20 cities and a dozen provinces.
After China’s success in controlling the pandemic within its borders last January, the outbreak in China is now the most severe.
This record was put in jeopardy by the rapid-spreading Delta variant that broke out at Nanjing Airport in eastern Jiangsu province, July.
Authorities have now conducted three rounds of testing on the city’s 9.2 million residents and placed hundreds of thousands under lockdown, in an effort to curb an outbreak Beijing has blamed on the highly contagious Delta variant and the peak tourist season.
They are also trying to locate more than 5,000 people who attended a Zhangjiajie theatre festival, which was held in a tourist town in Hunan province. After four positive tests, all 1.5 million residents were taken into custody and all tourist attractions closed.
Health officials say the mini-outbreak in Zhangjiajie was sparked by travellers from Nanjing and has helped spread the disease to more than 20 cities.
“Zhangjiajie has now become the new ground zero for China’s epidemic spread,” virologist Zhong Nanshan told reporters Saturday.
“We must cast the net wider when tracing close contacts of the Delta variant.”
Beijing Sunday reported three locally transmitted infections — a family living on the outskirts of the Chinese capital that had returned from Zhangjiajie, the local health bureau said.
Beijing has cut all links by rail, bus, and air to areas in which coronavirus cases were found.
The Chinese capital has also closed its doors to tourists during the peak summer holiday travel season and is only allowing “essential travellers” with a negative nucleic acid test to enter.
Fresh cases were also reported Sunday on Hainan island — another popular tourist destination — as well as Ningxia and Shandong provinces, authorities said.
The country is also battling a separate rise in cases in the flood-ravaged city of Zhengzhou in Henan province after two cleaners at a hospital treating coronavirus patients coming from abroad tested positive.
Thirty locally transmitted cases have been detected, with authorities Sunday ordering tests of all 10 million residents. The head of the city’s health commission has also been sacked.
After reports that some of the people who were sickened in this latest cluster had not been vaccinated, officials from the health department said this was “normal” but stressed the need for strict measures and vaccinations.
“The Covid vaccine’s protection against the Delta variant may have somewhat declined, but the current vaccine still has a good preventative and protective effect against the Delta variant,” said Feng Zijian, a virologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Saturday, more than 1.65 million vaccine doses had been given nationwide. This was according to Beijing’s National Health Commission. It doesn’t give any figures as to how many people have been fully vaccinated.