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China locks 11 million city near Beijing in attempt to curb exacerbation of coronavirus



Residents of Shijiazhuang, a provincial capital near Beijing, have been banned from leaving the city as major highways have been blocked, railways and bus stations closed and flights canceled.
The lock comes as a total of 117 Covid-19 infections were detected on Wednesday – including 67 asymptomatic cases. On Thursday, the city identified another 66 positive cases, according to the Hebei Province Health Commission.

A total of 304 positive cases have been registered in Hebei since January 2 – most of them in Shijiazhuang, according to official figures. The city is only 289.6 kilometers southwest of Beijing – about three hours by car or an hour on the high-speed railway.

At a press conference on Thursday, municipal authorities announced a ban on outbound travel for all residents and vehicles of Shijiazhuang, except in emergencies.

Gathering is prohibited within the city, all schools have been suspended, and residential communities and villages have also been closed.

The restrictions are among the strictest imposed in China, as the country largely contained the spread of the coronavirus in March. They are reminiscent of the draconian lock during the initial outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first discovered in December 201

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The outbreak in Shijiazhuang comes just weeks before the lunar New Year’s holiday, China’s most important annual festival, which usually sees millions of people traveling home to reunite with their families.

Last year, the Chinese government closed Wuhan two days before the Lunar New Year, but millions of people had already left the city, potentially carrying the virus with them to their hometowns across the country.

This year, fearing that lunar New Year’s trips could speed up the spread of the virus again, a growing number of local governments are advising residents not to travel home for the holiday, with government and state-owned company employees ordered to stay unless is specially approved.

Strict measures

In Shejiazhuang, authorities announced last week that the city was entering a “military regime” to fight the spread of the virus. Soon, a coronavirus test device was launched across the city for all of its 11 million residents.

More than 3,000 health workers are deployed from other parts of the province to conduct mass testing. As of noon on Thursday, more than 6 million samples had been collected and more than 2 million samples tested, Deputy Mayor Meng Xianhong told a news conference on Thursday. Mass testing identified 11 positive results for coronavirus, according to Meng.

On Thursday night, two medical teams – each with about 100 members – carrying test kits and other equipment were sent from the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang to Shijiazhuang to support the effort.

In addition, a hospital in the city has been vacated and designated to treat patients with Covid-19, with three more hospitals ready, Mann said.

China is testing millions of people in Xinjiang for Covid-19 after an asymptomatic case was discovered

Rapid and drastic measures such as mass testing, extensive contact tracking and strict blockades have determined China’s response to sporadic local outbreaks.

Last October, the eastern port city of Qingdao tested more than 10 million people in just four days in a dozen cases transmitted locally.

In late October, Kashgar Prefecture in the far western region of Xinjiang conducted mass tests on nearly 5 million people and imposed blocking measures following a report of an asymptomatic case of coronavirus.

Potential weak connection

But this time, some public health experts in China said the re-emergence of the virus in Shijiazhuang was discovered too late, with rural areas being a weak link in preventing and controlling epidemics.

Feng Zijian, deputy director of China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told state television CCTV that the growing number of cases suggested the virus had been spreading quietly for some time.

The first confirmed case was discovered on January 2, a 61-year-old woman from a village on the outskirts of Shijiazhuang. In the following days, most of the new cases were found in villages in the same area.

Lu Hongzhou, co-director of the Shanghai Clinical Center for Public Health at Fudan University, told the state-run Global Times that the Shijiazhuang outbreak shows that villages are a vulnerable link.

Epidemiological investigations carried out by local health authorities in the city show that many coronavirus patients who have developed symptoms first go to local clinics that are not equipped to perform nucleic acid tests or provide appropriate treatment, according to the Global Times.

As the virus spread silently, villagers continued to attend rallies. Local health authorities have found that many infections are linked to funerals, weddings and other social gatherings, the report said.

According to the state Health Times, religious gatherings may also be due to the spread of the virus.

“Apart from wedding banquets, some villagers also held religious activities at home every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, or at least twice a week, with dozens of people, mostly the elderly,” a local official at the Shijiazhuang epicenter was quoted as saying.

These religious home gatherings often operate in a legal gray area, separate from officially sanctioned church meetings. In recent years, Chinese authorities have cracked down on unauthorized religious activities, closing prominent underground churches and imprisoning pastors.

The CNN office in Beijing attributes the reporting.


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