A medical worker wearing a protective suit collects a throat swab from a local resident for a rapid Covid-19 antigen test at a temporary test center in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China, on Jan. 6, 2021.
Visual China Group | Getty Images
BEIJING – Chinese authorities begin lockdown parts of a province near Beijing after a surge in coronavirus cases.
The restrictions put in place in Hebei this week are among the toughest since Covid-19 spread across the country in March and will occur when new waves of the coronavirus hit the US and Europe. China’s initial tough response to the pandemic contributed to a 6.8% decline in the economy in the first quarter.
Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province and about a three and a half hours drive southwest of Beijing, reported 50 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 67 asymptomatic ones on Wednesday. It brought the province to a total of 90 currently confirmed cases and 144 asymptomatic cases.
The city has banned passengers from going to the train station, suspended long-distance buses, closed schools and tighter controls on residential building entry, while authorities blocked major highways in the province, according to state media.
Hebei Province began uncovering some coronavirus cases over the weekend, with state media attributing some to wedding visitors.
The new cases come a few weeks after Beijing reported a handful of cases in close succession, leading to mass testing in certain districts of the country’s capital.
Chinese authorities have touted their ability to control the virus outside of developed countries, tracing most of the cases to foreign sources since last spring. The country is the only major economy expected to have grown in 2020.
However, late last year officials expressed more concern about the ongoing pandemic.
The increase in coronavirus cases in the recent Hebei outbreak suggests the virus may have spread over a period of time, Feng Zijian, deputy head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with state media Early of the week.
Researchers from the Disease Control Center said genome sequencing showed that the Hebei strains were different from those in other parts of China and not related to the strain in the UK, but had some similarities to versions found in Russia.
Shijiazhuang is a city of about 11 million people and about 10 hours’ drive north of Wuhan in Hubei Province, where Covid-19 first appeared in late 2019. The disease turned into a global pandemic in just a few months and has since infected more than 87 million people worldwide and killed more than 1.8 million.
The Hebei Provincial Health Commission sent 1,000 medical workers to Shijiazhuang on Wednesday to help the city with health care and mass testing. It is planned to dispatch 2,000 more medical workers on Thursday.
The Chinese authorities are encouraging people to stay in the cities where they work during the upcoming New Year holiday next month. Hundreds of millions of people traditionally return to their hometowns or travel during the extended vacation that takes place in mid-February this year.