SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The latest outbreak of COVID-19 in China is developing rapidly, a health official said, as authorities demanded a lot of attention in ports of entry due to growing infections in the northeastern border town caused by a virus coming from abroad.
From October 17 to 29, about 377 domestic cases with confirmed symptoms were reported, data from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed. China has faced a series of outbreaks this year, as in early 2020 it mostly contained national expansion.
The numbers remain small compared to clusters outside the country. While the rest of the world is engaged in coexistence with COVID, China maintains its zero tolerance and calls for vigilance around border areas and ports to prevent infected incoming passengers from spreading the virus to locals.
“In the last 14 days, 14 provinces have reported new locally transmissible cases or asymptomatic carriers,” NHC spokesman Mi Feng said on Saturday.
“The outbreak is still developing rapidly, and the state of virus control is severe and complex.”
Heihe, a small northeastern city of 1.3 million people lying on the Chinese side of the Amur River on the border with Russia, reported 26 local cases on October 29, a sharp increase from nine on October 28 and only one on October 27. .
“The outbreak has revealed the laxity of some local authorities,” said Wu Liangyou, another NHC official.
China, especially ports of entry, should step up testing of people at high risk for infection and improve monitoring of possible outbreaks as the virus continues to spread in neighboring countries, Wu told a news conference.
Research and virus sequence results have shown that the cluster in Heihe is not associated with a permanent outbreak that affected mainly northwestern parts of China, indicating that the new source of the virus was brought from abroad, Wu said.
A number of local infections detected in northern and northwestern China since Oct. 17 could be traced back to the source of the virus, which they brought in from abroad, the NHC reported last week.
China’s border towns, many with relatively few resources, have typically suffered more severe disruptions from the outbreaks than richer cities.
In the small southwestern city of Ruili, bordering Myanmar, the once-strong jewelery business, a pillar of its modest economy, has been weakened by some of the toughest anti-virus measures in China due to repeated outbreaks.
In major cities, officials have promised strict restrictions on viruses for key international events to reduce the risk of imported viruses.
To safely host the February Winter Olympics, Chinese athletes and staff supporting the event must receive a restorative vaccine, while resuscitation measures are recommended for foreign athletes but are not mandatory, state television reported.
China plans to complete vaccinating children aged three to 11 by the end of December, except for those with health problems that could cause COVID-19 vaccination to cause harm, Wu said.
In total, it has already vaccinated about 75.8% of its 1.4 billion population, and gives eligible adults vaccination.
(Reported by Roxanne Liu, Andrew Galbraith and Winni Zhou; editing by Stephen Coates and Alison Williams)