BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Wednesday recorded its biggest daily rise in COVID cases in more than five months, stepping up containment measures that have seen four cities locked out as the world’s second largest economy is struggling to avoid a new wave of infections.
Most of the new cases have been reported near the capital Beijing, but a province in China’s far northeast has also seen an increase in infections, official data shows, amid a resurgence that has seen more of 28 million people placed in home quarantine.
While the Chinese city of Wuhan was the initial epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, which first appeared there in late 2019, China had largely kept COVID-19 at bay in recent months.
On Wednesday, the National Health Commission reported a total of 115 new confirmed cases on the continent, up from 55 a day earlier, the largest daily increase since July 30.
He said 107 of the new cases were local infections. Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing, accounted for 90 of the cases, while northeast Heilongjiang Province reported 16 new cases.
The wave of infections comes ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions of Chinese typically make their way to their hometowns. Far fewer people are expected to hit the road this year, and many provinces have asked migrant workers to stay put during the break.
A “massive” resurgence is unlikely during the holidays if control and prevention measures are properly implemented, Feng Zijian, deputy director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday.
The peak in new cases comes as a team of experts from the World Health Organization probing the origins of the pandemic is expected to arrive in Wuhan on Thursday. The team will be subject to a 14-day quarantine, NHC spokesman Mi Feng said.
Much remains unknown about the origins of the coronavirus and China has been sensitive to the cover-up accusations that delayed its initial response and allowed the virus to spread. A WHO-affiliated health expert previously said expectations should be “very low” for the team to come to a conclusion from their trip to China.
CONTAINMENT EFFORTS Hebei Province has put three cities – Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Langfang – on lockdown as part of efforts to prevent the virus from spreading further, while Beijing city authorities have stepped up measures screening and prevention to prevent another cluster from developing there.
China has administered more than 10 million doses of the vaccine, NHC official Wang Bin said on Wednesday, and has increased its testing capacity to 12.55 million people per day, ten times the level of last March.
Heilongjiang Province declared a COVID-19 emergency on Wednesday. The city of Suihua, which borders the provincial capital Harbin, has locked up its 5.2 million inhabitants.
Most of the cases in Heilongjiang have been found in Wangkui County, under Suihua’s jurisdiction. Tieli, a town of about 300,000 people that borders Suihua, said on Wednesday it would ban people and vehicles from leaving for three days under new COVID-19 prevention measures.
The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 38 from 81 cases a day earlier. Seven of them were reported from Jilin, a northeastern province bordering Heilongjiang.
The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in mainland China now stands at 87,706, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.
Reporting by Jing Wang and Emily Chow in Shanghai and Yew Lun Tian, Liangping Gao and Lusha Zhang in Beijing; written by Se Young Lee and Tony Munroe; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Michael Perry