China tests Lunar New Year travelers for COVID-19; Shanghai has reported new cases

BEIJING (Reuters) – China plans to impose strict coronavirus testing requirements during the Lunar New Year holiday season, as tens of millions of people are expected to travel as it battles the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.

The Shanghai mall reported its first local transmission cases in two months on Thursday, underscoring the growing risk of the virus spreading elsewhere.

Millions of people in Hebei province surrounding Beijing and the northeastern Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces have been put into lockdown in recent weeks.

Authorities are asking people to stay home during the holiday season in February as part of their efforts to prevent another outbreak of a debilitating disease.

New restrictions are also being adopted by local governments in regions that have not yet suffered from a major outbreak, including a southwestern city that has banned the entry of foreigners abroad.

The National Health Commission said on Thursday that a total of 144 new cases were reported on January 20, which matches the total number reported on January 14 and represents the highest number of daily infections since March 1. And that’s still just a small fraction of what China has experienced. During the peak of the outbreak from January to February 2020.

Among the 126 new domestic infections, Heilongjiang recorded 68, while Jilin reported 33. Hebei province, which has so far seen the largest increase in cases this month, has reported 20 new cases, and Beijing has reported two.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed infections, rose to 113 from 58 the previous day.

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In a notice posted online, the Chinese National Health Commission said that people returning to rural areas from other provinces during the Lunar New Year period will have to take a negative COVID-19 test within seven days.

The majority of China’s 280 million rural migrant workers usually travel to their villages at this time of year.

The notice said those who work with imported cold chain products, or quarantine facility workers, among other groups, will also have to take a test, even if they remain in the same province.

Officials blamed the fight against epidemics in rural areas, as well as the spread of infection through imported frozen goods, as weak links partly responsible for the current outbreak.

An announcement from an NHC official during a press conference on Wednesday indicated that everyone who returns home will have to get tested. Then the official Xinhua News Agency published an article urging officials to clarify the details „as soon as possible.“

New steps

Although the recent increase in the number of cases has remained mostly in the northeast, some authorities in other parts of China have taken drastic measures in an effort to prevent the possibility of a cluster developing.

Ruili city in the southwestern Yunnan Province, a popular tourist spot due to its hot weather, on Wednesday banned entry to foreign travelers traveling from abroad.

The city will also test all Chinese citizens entering the city from areas classified as medium or high risk for COVID-19 and require them to quarantine for a period of three weeks – two of which will be in central facilities.

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Yunnan did not report any new domestic infections during the current wave, but Ruili was forced to quarantine some residents in September after discovering two infections imported from Myanmar.

On Thursday, Shanghai reported three domestic cases of COVID-19, the first of its kind since November 23. The city began mass testing of all hospital workers earlier on Thursday after two of those workers at different facilities returned „suspicious“ COVID-19 test results this week.

These individuals have not been officially reported as confirmed cases.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 88,701, while the number of deaths remained unchanged at 4,635.

(Reporting by Jing Wang and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Gabrielle Crossley and Roxanne Liu in Beijing; written by Si Young Lee; edited by Jacqueline Wong, Jerry Doyle, and Michael Berry)

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