China steps up COVID-19 measures near Beijing as local infections rise

SHANGHAI: Chinese authorities shut sections of highways running through Hebei province that surrounds Beijing on Wednesday (Jan 6) and closed a key long distance bus terminal in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang in efforts to stave off another coronavirus wave.

All schools in Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million around 300km south of Beijing, have been closed.

The village of Xiaoguozhuang within the city boundary has been classified as a “high-risk” district and sealed off.

Health authorities said all 40,000 residents in that district have been tested for the virus.

State TV showed villagers being tested by staff in full hazmat suits and protective wear, with roadblocks staffed by police and medical workers.

Teams of health workers were seen spraying disinfectant across streets and an emergency team of medical workers was said to have been deployed to the city.

More than 400,000 residents of another nearby city, Nangong, have also been tested, authorities said.

The northeastern Hebei province on Tuesday entered a “wartime mode” after reporting its first local infections in more than six months. The province will set up investigation teams to trace the close contacts of those who have tested positive.

Hebei accounted for 20 of the 23 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases reported in China on Jan 5, more than the 19 cases reported in the province between Jan 2 and Jan 4. The total number of new mainland cases, including those originating from overseas, fell to 32 from 33 a day earlier.

Hebei also accounted for 43 of the 64 new asymptomatic cases – patients who have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus but not yet showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Beijing is also racing to vaccinate millions ahead of the country’s Chinese New Year travel rush next month.

Though new infections remain at a small fraction of what the country saw during the height of the epidemic, which emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, China continues to take aggressive measures to prevent another wave of the disease that has killed 4,634 people in China and more than 1.8 million globally.

Local authorities frequently implement a combination of measures including mass testing, closing schools and restricting travel for those in areas with a cluster of new COVID-19 patients. Chinese customs officials also conduct routine inspections of imported goods to check for traces of the coronavirus.

READ: China hails its ‘extraordinary’ success curbing COVID-19 ahead of WHO probe

At the same time, China has tried to reshape the narrative about when and where the pandemic began, with top officials highlighting studies they claim show the disease emerged in multiple regions.

Beijing has also rejected accusations of wrongdoing or mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said he was “very disappointed” that China still had not authorised a team of international experts tasked with examining the origins of the coronavirus into the country.

The 10-person team was due to set off in early January in order to probe early cases of the coronavirus. Two members had already departed but have since turned back or opted to go to a third country, WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment regarding the WHO team’s inability to enter China.

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