A serious “second wave” of coronavirus infections is not expected in China, the country’s top infectious disease expert said on the weekend as parts of Europe braced for a new round of lockdowns and the number of fresh cases for the week soared to a record 2 million around the world.
Leading infectious disease specialist Zhong Nanshan told at a medical conference on Saturday that even though China continued to battle sporadic outbreaks, existing controls meant there was unlikely to be a resurgence of widespread transmission “in the tens of thousands”.
“We have accumulated invaluable experience. The central government has adopted a strategy of blocking the spread from the epicentre, while practising upstream control with mass prevention methods elsewhere,” Zhong said. “This is the key to our decisive victory.”
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A day earlier, he told an online pharmaceutical forum that a second wave appeared to have started in other parts of the world.
Zhong’s comments came as China took sweeping measures to control an outbreak in Kashgar, locking down the city in the western region of Xinjiang and testing roughly 4.75 million people in about three days.
As of Sunday morning, Xinjiang had a total of 54 confirmed cases and 219 asymptomatic ones.
Another 61 cases of asymptomatic infection were added to that tally on Saturday after a second round of testing, according to regional authorities. The first infection in the outbreak was reported on October 24 but the source of the cases remains unknown.
Meanwhile, authorities in the eastern province of Shandong were trying to track a batch of imported frozen pork, after the discovery on Thursday of traces of the coronavirus on the packaging of some of the meat, which was imported from Brazil.
Such tracing has become another key strategy in China’s disease control, with a government task force for Covid-19 control issuing a guideline to step up infection prevention measures for people handling imported frozen food, citing a possibility of “long-distance, cross-border import with cold-chain food as carrier”.
By Sunday, more than 8,000 samples from products and packaging, as well as employees who might have handled the goods from Brazil, were tested by authorities in Yantai. The results were all negative, city authorities said on Sunday.
Diners at a barbecue restaurant and shoppers at a meat market in nearby Weihai, where the goods were also traced, were asked to report for nucleic acid testing by Saturday evening.
State news agency Xinhua reported that customs authorities also suspended imports of aquatic products from the Ecuadorean firm Firexpa after a shipment of frozen Ecuadorean fish tested positive for the coronavirus.
Though international scientists have expressed doubts that frozen food could lead to infections, researchers from the Beijing Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences published findings last month linking imported salmon to an outbreak in Beijing in June that involved 335 cases.
The findings come as scientists have looked to understand isolated outbreaks in Chinese cities including Beijing, Urumqi, and Qingdao in recent months, after indications that community transmission had been brought under control.
In his comments on the weekend, Zhong said China would continue to see such “sporadic” outbreaks and should not relax epidemic prevention measures.
“The current environment in China is safe now, but this was hard-won,” he said.
In Europe, a number of countries are introducing lockdowns or tightening social distancing rules as infections surge.
On Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a one-month stay-at-home order from Thursday, with exceptions for schools, universities and essential stores.
A number of countries in Europe, including Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Greece and Portugal, have also rolled out or planned partial shutdowns and other measures to stem increasing infections.
Meanwhile, the United States neared a record of 100,000 new daily infections. A White House spokesman said the administration would focus on vaccines and therapeutics to address Covid-19, rather than limiting its spread.
At a meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee for Covid-19 convened by the World Health Organization last Thursday, health officials and advisers called on countries to “avoid politicisation or complacency with regards to the pandemic response”.
The group, which declared the Covid-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern back in January, said the pandemic was still an “extraordinary event” requiring international coordination.
China has not been alone in the Pacific region when it comes to managing the outbreak to limit widespread community transmission. Health officials have hailed successful, less-stringent strategies, in places like South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.
Taiwan on Thursday crossed a milestone of 200 days without any domestically transmitted cases of Covid-19.
Hong Kong and Singapore also plan to introduce a travel bubble between the two cities in coming weeks, after each typically reported fewer than 10 coronavirus infections per day.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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