China reports 39 Covid-19 infections, locks down Inner Mongolia county

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - China locked down a county that has seen the most Covid-19 cases in the country’s latest Delta outbreak, as an initial flare-up in the north-west quickly spirals into a nationwide surge. 

China reported 39 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday (Oct 24), down from 43 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said on Monday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement 35 of the new cases were local, up from 26 the day before.

The new local cases, which included some reclassifications of previously asymptomatic cases, were reported in Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Guizhou, Gansu, Hebei, Shaanxi and Hunan.

Ejin, a county in north-western China’s Inner Mongolia, has asked its 35,700 residents to stay home from Monday and warned of civil and criminal liabilities should anyone disobey the order, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a local government statement.

The small county bordering Mongolia is the current outbreak’s hot spot, home to nearly one-third of the more than 150 infections found over the past week in the mainland. 

The lockdown came a day after a warning from National Health Commission officials that the outbreak would continue to worsen after spreading to 11 provinces in about a week. 

Half of the cases reported on Monday were found in Inner Mongolia.

 The capital Beijing – which has seen a dozen new cases traced back to the north-west – has all but banned entry by people arriving from any place in the country that has reported having local Covid-19 cases.

People who have to visit Beijing from such areas must provide a Covid-19 test conducted no longer than two days earlier, and undergo two weeks of unspecified health monitoring. 

Meanwhile, provinces with a handful of cases – including Beijing; Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Ningxia in the north-west; and Guizhou, in the southwest, have been banned from conducting cross-country travel tours.

All train services around China related to tourism have also been halted, as the current outbreak has seen the virus spread quickly among tour groups.

Respiratory expert Wang Guangfa at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Sunday that the virus came from overseas, but how it entered China remains unknown. 

The escalating curbs underscore the challenge even China’s formidable Covid-19 restrictions face in controlling the highly-contagious Delta variant.

The country is the only nation in the world still seeking to eliminate local transmission of the virus at a time when other so-called Covid-zero stalwarts – from Singapore to Australia – have pivoted to treating it as endemic.  

China has managed to quash a slew of flare-ups since Delta first breached its tight border controls in May.

One in July and August eventually spread to half of China, forcing the authorities to cut transport from hot spots and test local populations multiple times to bring infections back to zero – only to see new flares emerge.

Confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now total 96,797, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,636.