China reported 96 new Covid-19 infections on Saturday and 119 asymptomatic cases, of which more than half were linked to a superspreader in the northeast of the country, health authorities said.
Jilin province, which borders North Korea, reported 63 of the asymptomatic cases, all but one of them related to a 45-year-old tutor who had been touring the region giving lectures on health, the provincial health commission said on Saturday.
The man has now been linked to 102 cases in the province, the Jilin health commission said at a press conference on Sunday.
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Contact tracing revealed that the unnamed man boarded trains in Harbin – the capital of Heilongjiang province – and Changchun, Tonghua and Gongzhuling in Jilin before being identified. He was first thought to be an asymptomatic carrier – which China does not include in its tally of infections – but was later confirmed as a case.
The National Health Commission (NHC) said on Saturday that the recent outbreaks in northeastern China were the result of imported cases and contaminated frozen and chilled foods, though it did not provide any evidence to support its claims.
“Since December 2020, epidemic clusters have occurred in Beijing, Sichuan, Liaoning, Hebei and Heilongjiang,” NHC chief Ma Xiaowei said in a statement.
“They mainly have the following characteristics: firstly, they are all imported from abroad, caused by travellers from overseas, or contaminated cold-chain imported items.”
Ma said also that the latest Covid-19 outbreak, which came after months of China thinking it had the disease under control – was spreading quickest in rural areas, fuelled by large gatherings such as weddings.
The number of confirmed cases reported for Saturday was the first under 100 in five days.
Since the latest outbreak began, the bulk of the new infections have been in north China’s Hebei province, with almost 700 cases and one death reported there since the start of the year.
With its proximity to Beijing and the Lunar New Year – when hundreds of millions of Chinese traditionally travel home for the festivities – just weeks away, the central government has been on high alert, urging people to stay home for the holiday.
The Hebei government said on Saturday that lockdowns in three cities at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak had been extended.
In the provincial capital Shijiazhuang and nearby Nangong, the lockdown would remain in place until Tuesday, while in Langfang, the restrictions would continue until Monday, it said.
A lockdown covering the rest of Xingtai, which administers Nangong, was lifted on Saturday, as were restrictions in Xinji, a county-level city under Shijiazhuang.
Meanwhile, Beijing said on Friday that all people returning to China from overseas should monitor their health for seven days after completing the mandatory 21 days’ quarantine.
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