Chinaʼs worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic a year and a half ago has escalated, with dozens more cases around the country, the sealing-off of one city and the punishment of its local leaders.
Associated Press reports that since that initial outbreak was tamed last year, Chinaʼs people had lived virtually free of the virus, with extremely strict border controls and local distancing and quarantine measures stamping out scattered, small flare-ups when they occurred.
Now the country is on high alert as an outbreak of cases connected to the international airport in the eastern city of Nanjing touched at least 17 provinces. China reported 71 new cases of COVID-19 from local transmission on Wednesday, more than half of them in coastal Jiangsu province, of which Nanjing is the capital.
In Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in late 2019, mass testing has shown some of its newly reported cases have a high degree of similarity to cases discovered in Jiangsu province. They have been identified as being caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Meanwhile, another COVID-19 hotspot was emerging in the city of Zhangjiajie, near a scenic area famous for sandstone cliffs, caves, forests and waterfalls. The city ordered residential communities sealed on Sunday, preventing people from leaving their homes. In a subsequent order on Tuesday, officials said no one, whether tourist or resident, could leave the city.
On Wednesday, adds AP, the city governmentʼs Communist Party disciplinary committee issued a list of local officials who “had a negative impact” on pandemic prevention and control work who would be punished.
The city itself has only recorded 19 cases since last week, three of which were people with no symptoms, which are counted separately. However, individual cases linked to Zhangjiajieʼs outbreak have spread to at least five provinces. Far higher numbers were reported in Yangzhou, a city next to Nanjing, which has recorded 126 cases as of Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, China had given more than 1.71 billion vaccine doses to its population of 1.4 billion. Itʼs not clear how many are first or both doses, but at least 40% of the population is fully protected, according to earlier announcements.
AP notes that Chinese companies have not publicly shared real-world data on how effective their vaccines are against the Delta variant, though officials have said the vaccines prevent severe disease and hospitalisation.
China has reported 4,636 deaths and 93,289 cases of COVID-19 overall, most from the original outbreak in Wuhan that peaked early last year.
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