Chinese cities have massively tested millions of people and imposed new travel restrictions as health authorities struggle to contain the country’s most widespread coronavirus outbreak in months.
China reported 75 new coronavirus cases with 53 local broadcasts on Sunday, and a cluster linked to an eastern airport is now reported to have spread to more than 20 cities and more than a dozen provinces.
The outbreak is geographically the largest to hit China in several months after the country’s successes in extinguishing the pandemic within its borders last year.
That record was put in jeopardy after the rapidly expanding Delta variant blew up at Nanjing Airport in eastern Jiangsu Province in July.
Authorities have carried out three rounds of tests on the city’s 9.2 million residents and locked hundreds of thousands in an effort to curb an outbreak that Beijing attributed to the highly contagious variant of the Delta and the high season of tourism.
They are also fighting to track down more than 5,000 people across the country who attended a theater festival in Zhangjiajie, a resort city in Hunan province, which has closed down 1.5 million residents and closed all tourist attractions. after four visitors tested positive.
Health says the mini outbreak in Zhangjiajie was caused by travelers from Nanjing and has helped authorities spread the disease to more than 20 cities.
“Zhangjiajie has now become the new ground zero for the spread of the epidemic in China,” virologist Zhong Nanshan told reporters on Saturday.
“We must launch the broader network by tracking close contacts of the Delta variant.”
On Sunday, Beijing reported three locally transmitted infections: a family living on the outskirts of the Chinese capital who had returned from Zhangjiajie, the local health bureau said.
Beijing has cut all rail, bus and air links with areas where coronavirus cases have been found.
The Chinese capital has also closed its doors to tourists during the peak summer holiday travel season and only allows entry to “essential travelers” with a negative nucleic acid test.
New 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 spike in cases in the flood-ravaged city of Zhengzhou in Henan province after two cleaners at a hospital treating coronavirus patients from abroad tested positive.
Thirty cases of local transmission have been detected, and authorities on Sunday ordered testing of the 10 million residents. The head of the city’s health commission was also removed from office.
And after reports that some sick people in the latter group were vaccinated, health officials said this was “normal” and emphasized the importance of vaccination along with strict measures.
“The protection of the Covid vaccine against the Delta variant may have decreased a bit, but the current vaccine still has a good preventive and protective effect against the Delta variant,” said Feng Zijian, a virologist at the Chinese Center for the Control and Prevention of Diseases.
So far, more than 1.65 billion doses of vaccines have been administered across the country as of Saturday, the Beijing National Health Commission said. It does not provide figures on how many people have been fully vaccinated.