BEIJING – China reported the most number of domestic COVID-19 infections in more than four months as it battles outbreaks in its western and northeastern regions, raising fears of a serious resurgence.
The jump in cases is the worst flareup since China contained its first epidemic in March, which centered on Wuhan in Hubei province where the virus first emerged last year.
Of the 61 infections reported today, 57 were local cases with 41 of them in Xinjiang, the politically fraught western province where China’s treatment of the local Muslim Uighur population has come under global criticism.
The rest were found in and around northeastern Liaoning province, centered on its port city of Dalian. Cases linked to Dalian have already spread to several cities across the three northeast provinces, as well as the southern province of Fujian.
The spikes of infection underscore the near-impossibility of stamping out the pathogen, even by a country capable of responding quickly and ferociously. Flareups are being seen across the Asia Pacific region and in parts of Europe as the relaxation of social distancing measures allows the coronavirus to quickly take root again.
Despite its success in containing a first wave that infected over 80,000, mostly in Hubei province, China has been playing whack-a-mole with the virus as it re-emerges in places from southern manufacturing hub Guangzhou and northeastern border province Heilongjiang, to the all-important political center of Beijing.
With the latest outbreaks, officials appear to be using the same playbook of rapid mass testing coupled with targeted lockdown restrictions.
In Urumqi city, the capital of Xinjiang province, subway and bus services have been cut off for over a week while housing compounds limit the number of people who can go in and out.
In Dalian, officials said over the weekend that they would begin testing the entire city population of around 6 million, replicating the effort in Wuhan earlier this year. That testing blitz in China’s original epicenter unearthed hundreds of asymptomatic infections, and appears to have succeeded in cutting off hidden chains of transmission.
China’s central government is sending aid to Dalian, with the head of its National Health Commission Ma Xiaowei leading a team there. Ma called for the city to empty a hospital in 24 hours to admit COVID-19 patients, according to a statement published on the commission website yesterday.
During the Beijing outbreak last month, traces of the virus had been detected on the chopping board of a vendor handling imported salmon.
Since then, China has repeatedly found traces of COVID-19 in the packaging of imported shrimp, raising concern that the latest resurgences are in some way linked to contaminated imports. But scientists say that there’s no evidence that the global food trade can transmit the virus.