China continues battle against new coronavirus a year after Wuhan lockdown

By Javier García

Wuhan, China, Jan 22 (efe-epa).- The Chinese government on Friday continued its efforts to contain the biggest fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 in the last 10 months, a day before the first anniversary of the historic and then unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan, the capital of the central Hubei province inhabited by 11 million people, where the global pandemic originated.

China has already imposed lockdown measures in three northern provinces affecting millions of citizens and on Friday began massive testing in many areas of Beijing, where three fresh cases were detected in the Daxing district, taking the total number of infections reported since Sunday to 14.

However, these figures do not include asymptomatic cases – as China does not count them as confirmed cases – which have added to the problems of authorities in the capital and other cities.

China has been reporting over 200 daily infections – including asymptomatic ones – for many days now, with most of them being linked to local transmission.

So far the surge has been limited to the northern provinces apart from six new cases in Shanghai, although the possible undetected movement of infected people has raised alarms.

On Friday 10 new confirmed cases and 31 asymptomatic positives were reported among workers of a chicken factory in the southern city of Harbin, owned by Thai company Charoen Pokphand, one of the largest poultry producers in the world.

China has often detected the new coronavirus in frozen meat and fish imported from abroad, but its own food industry had not reported outbreaks so far.

This particular hotspot was found through routine testing of citizens in the Heilongjiang province, including the capital Harbin, which has seen a fresh outbreak in recent days. This has led to concerns over the possibility of other hidden infections.

The authorities have chosen the rapid testing of millions of people as the way to prevent infected persons, especially asymptomatic ones, from remaining unidentified and being able to move freely.

On Friday large queues of people had formed in the major districts of Beijing to undergo PCR tests, as city authorities have ordered the testing of two million people in the central Doncheng and Xicheng districts, apart from the tests already carried out in Daxing and Shunyi.

Municipal spokespersons also expressed concern over the violation of epidemic control measures in some rural areas of the capital, where the norms regarding masks, temperature checks and distancing have not been followed entirely.

Controlling Covid in the countryside is one of the biggest worries for the Chinese government, which has made it mandatory for the millions of immigrants planning to visit their hometowns to celebrate the Lunar New Year – set to be held on Feb. 12 this year – to take a test and quarantine at their native house for two weeks.

Preventing unidentified infections from spreading during the massive traditional New Year migration, both in villages and cities, has become one of the biggest priorities for Beijing.

Meanwhile in Wuhan, the city where it all began, citizens expressed confidence in government measures and said they were not afraid that the nightmare of Jan. 23, 2020 – when the city was put into a complete lockdown that lasted 78 days – may return to haunt them.

The alleged ground zero of the pandemic, the Huanan fish and seafood market, remained deserted on Friday and had been cordoned off with a massive three meter-high blue and white fence, blocking the gaze of any curious onlookers.

However, the second floor of the premises continues to function, with vacant opticians’ awaiting clients, although the guards at its entrance demanded a lot of information and scanned health codes before allowing EFE journalists to enter.

Inside, right on top of the original epicenter of the epidemic, Yana Jung – in charge of one of the dozens of shops selling spectacles that cover the entire floor – said she wasn’t afraid of the virus returning to Wuhan.

“We were lucky because we left for the New Year celebrations on Jan. 8, before they closed the city. None of the workers on this floor were infected,” she told EFE, although the disease had reportedly broken out in the market nearly a month before the lockdown was announced.

The 52-year-old woman believes that the strict measures taken by China against fresh outbreaks would prevent the pandemic from reaching Wuhan a second time, despite the upcoming holiday season.

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