China reports 109 new Covid-19 cases as infections persist in north-east

Of the 93 local infections, 54 were reported in Hebei province that surround Beijing. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China reported more than 100 new Covid-19 cases for the sixth consecutive day, with rising infections in the northeast fuelling concerns of another national wave when hundreds of millions travel for the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.

Tough new controls in the city of Gongzhuling in Jilin province, which has a population of around 1 million people, brings the total number of people under lockdown to more than 29 million.

According to the Global Times newspaper, at least 11 regions in the provinces of Hebei, Heilongjiang and Jilin have imposed lockdowns and rolled out extensive testing programmes.

The National Health Commission said in a statement on Monday (Jan 18) that a total of 109 new Covid-19 cases were reported on Jan 17, unchanged from a day earlier. Of the 93 local infections, 54 were reported in Hebei province that surround Beijing.

North-eastern Jilin province reported a record 30 new cases, underscoring the risk of new clusters emerging.

Daily increases still remain a fraction of what the country saw at the height of the outbreak early last year, but the authorities are implementing an aggressive package of measures, including the lockdowns, in order to keep the disease from bringing the country to another painful standstill.

Despite travel restrictions, the China Railway Corporation expects around 296 million railway passenger trips during the Lunar New Year break, compared with 410 million in 2019.

Shanghai is one of many cities providing financial incentives for migrant workers not to travel home.

The manufacturing hub of Yiwu on China's eastern coast is also introducing subsidies, including rent reductions, to encourage workers to stay put during the holiday.

Tianjin, home to 15 million people, said employees would get a one-off payment of 300 yuan ($46.20) if they stay in the city.

Cainiao, the delivery arm of Alibaba, also said it would provide more than 200 million yuan in subsidies to ensure that "people move less, goods move more" during the holiday.

China's statistics bureau chief Ning Jizhe said on Monday that the overall impact of the current Covid-19 resurgence on the country's economy remained controllable.

But though the official Xinhua news agency warned in a commentary that local governments should not "cry wolf", many have been introducing a series of fresh curbs.

Beijing, which reported two new local infections, will begin requiring travellers from abroad to undergo health monitoring for seven additional days following 21 days of medical observation, the official Xinhua news agency reported last Saturday.

The city of Gongzhuling in Jilin province, which has a population of around 1 million people, has also imposed a strict lockdown, shutting all but essential stores.

It said in a notice that it is "strictly forbidden" for anyone to go out unless they are scheduled to get a Covid-19 test at a designated site.

The outbreak in Jilin is believed to have been caused by an infected salesman travelling to and from the neigbouring province of Heilongjiang, the site of a previous cluster of cases.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 115 from 119 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China is 89,336, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635. The data excludes cases from Macau and Hong Kong, which are Chinese cities but report new cases independently, and self-ruled Taiwan which China claims as its own.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) team currently in China has already begun its investigations into the origins of the global pandemic.

WHO representatives said last Friday that they have begun discussions with their Chinese counterparts via video conference as they remain in quarantine.

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