The health ministry said on Wednesday that 32 of the cases were identified in the country’s northern autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. All except one of the infections occurred in the border area of Alxa League. Four asymptomatic local cases were also recorded, which China does not count towards its official tally.
The outbreak has spread to 11 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in less than a fortnight, after seven tourists who travelled to the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu as well as Inner Mongolia were found to be infected. At least 12 other domestic tour groups and other travellers on road trips have been linked to the spread, according to the National Health Commission (NHC).
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Multiple local health authorities have said the genomic sequencing of the virus indicated it was of the more infectious Delta variant.
“This wave was caused by the Delta variant of the virus, and some patients have had a high concentration of viral genetic material in their respiratory tracts. This shows it has a high viral load and strong infectivity, presenting a high risk in transmitting within exposed groups of people,” said Wu Liangyou, deputy director of the NHC’s disease control department.
Of the cases reported for Tuesday, five occurred in the city of Zunyi in Guizhou province, southern China, and four cases each were found in Rizhao, in the eastern province of Shandong, and Gansu province. Three cases were identified in the capital Beijing, while there were two at Yinzhou in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.
Some of the cases reported in Alxa League on Tuesday were linked to a restaurant, including a chef and manager who lived on the premises. Six of the infections were among construction workers who lived in an on-site dormitory and had visited the restaurant for meals.
Infections were also reported in an eight-year-old boy and a girl aged 11, neither of whom had left their homes in the previous week except to be tested for the coronavirus.
The local Communist Party disciplinary committee ordered hotels and residential committees to lock down and bar anyone from leaving or entering.
“The Alxa League disciplinary committee and supervisory committee will start a full ad hoc supervision, seriously hold accountable those who fail to fulfil anti-epidemic responsibilities, are weak in implementing measures, leave their posts or cannot ensure no one leaves their houses and shops,” said a notice from the committee.
The Ejina Banner in west Alxa called on Wednesday for its 35,756 residents to work from home and “not go out unless permitted”, with exceptions for emergency and frontline workers.
Inner Mongolia now has 110 confirmed community cases, of which 89 were identified in Axla. Ejina party secretary Chen Zhanyun was dismissed on Tuesday for his poor performance and implementation of control measures in the area’s fight against the coronavirus.
NHC director Ma Xiaowei arrived in Inner Mongolia on Monday to coordinate anti-epidemic measures in the region. The NHC said Ma had asked local authorities to devise a way of allowing tourists stuck in Inner Mongolia to return home, without causing further outbreaks, but did not provide details.
Elsewhere in China, local authorities scrambled to contain outbreaks and isolate close contacts of confirmed cases.
Shandong province’s tourism department suspended the sale of packages with an itinerary crossing provincial borders, after an area in Rizhao city was upgraded to a medium-risk area. Travel agencies can only sell such products once no area in the province is classified as having medium or high risk of infection.
The culture and tourism ministry also asked its local counterparts on Tuesday to fully reassess the capacity of tourist destinations in light of the latest clusters nationwide, but said limitations should be based on actual situations and not imposed through a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
Qionghai health authorities in southern Hainan province asked residents to make themselves known to authorities if they had been in contact with a 28-person tour group from Beijing that had travelled to the city. Six in the group were close contacts with confirmed cases in the capital.
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