After confirming the first domestic cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant, China’s Wuhan city will test its 12 million residents for the coronavirus.

Wuhan, where the virus first appeared in late 2019, had reported no local coronavirus cases since mid-May last year, but authorities confirmed three Delta variant cases on Monday. Over the last two weeks, the strain has been discovered in a number of provinces and major cities, including Beijing.

“To ensure that everyone in the city is safe, city-wide nucleic acid testing will be quickly launched for all people to fully screen out positive results and asymptomatic infections,” Wuhan official Li Qiang told a news briefing.

Parts of an industrial and technology zone were sealed off, a rare occurrence in the city since last year’s lockdown.

According to Li Yang, vice director of the Hubei province disease control center, the new cases in Wuhan, as well as infections in the nearby cities of Jingzhou and Huanggang since Saturday, were linked to cases in the city of Huaian in Jiangsu province.

The Jiangsu outbreak is thought to have started in late July in the provincial capital of Nanjing, with the Delta variant most likely introduced on a flight from Russia, according to officials.

People buy the necessities in a panic shopping in a supermarket after several nearby residential blocks went into lockdown in the COVID-19 prevention in Wuhan city in central China's Hubei province Monday, Aug. 02, 2021.
People buy the necessities in a panic shopping in a supermarket after several nearby residential blocks went into lockdown in the COVID-19 prevention in Wuhan city in central China's Hubei province Monday, Aug. 02, 2021.

China brought the epidemic under control last year and has only had to deal with a few isolated outbreaks since then.

Emergency response levels were reduced, and people outside of virus-infected areas were able to go about their lives as usual, which may have contributed to the latest outbreak.

According to a Nanjing official, even after the first cases were reported, some shops did not rigorously check customers’ digital health credentials, and some did not properly wear masks.

According to Jiangsu officials, the root cause of the Nanjing outbreak was “laxity of the mind”

As of Monday, the total number of local cases in China since July 20, when the first Nanjing infections were discovered, stood at 414.

Infections have been reported in a number of cities in southern China and a few in the north, including Beijing, and authorities have advised against non-essential travel, conducted mass testing, and closed off some high-risk areas.

Millions under lockdown

The more than 1.3 million residents of Yangzhou’s city centre are now confined to their homes, with each household allowed to send only one person outside per day to shop for necessities, the city government said on Tuesday.

The announcement follows similar moves in Zhangjiajie, a popular tourist destination in central China’s Hunan province, as well as nearby Zhuzhou city affecting more than two million people in total.

The outbreak spread to Hunan from Nanjing last month after people linked to a cluster at Nanjing airport attended theatre performances in Zhangjiajie.

Meanwhile, Beijing has blocked tourists from entering the capital during the peak summer holiday travel season and asked residents not to leave unless necessary, with top officials promising over the weekend to “spare no expense” in defending the capital city.

Beijing city, Shanghai city and Fujian province each detected one local case as of August 2.

‘LOOPHOLES’

A city official said last week that the first of the recent flurry cases in Nanjing were cleaners at the Nanjing Lukou International Airport who became infected, possibly due to poor sanitisation and protection after disinfecting a plane from Russia.

China’s aviation regulator has demanded more frequent testing and the use of protective equipment.

According to police in nearby Yangzhou, the outbreak in the city’s center worsened after a 64-year-old woman left her locked-down Nanjing neighborhood to visit family in Yangzhou, where she entered restaurants and shops.

Domestic flights have been halted at Nanjing and Yangzhou airports.

The majority of the 13 local cases reported in Zhengzhou since July 31 have been linked to a hospital that treats patients arriving from outside China, with the strain in the first two infections resembling that in cases recently arriving from Myanmar, according to an official.

“This outbreak mainly occurred inside the hospital, involving people including cleaning staffers and medical workers,” said Wang Songqiang, director of Zhengzhou’s disease control centre.

“This outbreak has … exposed the loopholes at a few hospitals in their in-hospital infection control,” Wang said.

In the southern province of Hunan, the city of Zhangjiajie was infected after carriers from outside the province attended a theater performance where members of the audience sat next to each other rather than at socially distanced intervals.

On Tuesday, Zhangjiajie said that residents and tourists should not leave the city, effectively imposing a lockdown.

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