China steps up Covid-19 measures as local infections rise

The total number of new mainland cases fell to 32 from 33 a day earlier. PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Chinese authorities say they are stepping up efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, seeking to avoid another wave of the pandemic in the country amid a rise in locally transmitted Covid-19 cases near Beijing.

The north-eastern Hebei province surrounding Beijing on Tuesday (Jan 5) entered a "wartime mode" after reporting its first local infections in more than six months. The province will set up investigation teams to trace the close contacts of those who have tested positive.

Hebei accounted for 20 of the 23 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases reported in mainland China on Tuesday, more than the 19 cases reported in the province between last Saturday (Jan 2) and Monday.

The total number of new mainland cases, including those originating from overseas, fell to 32 from 33 a day earlier.

Though new infections remain at a small fraction of what the country saw during the height of the epidemic, which emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, China continues to take aggressive measures to prevent another wave of the disease that has killed 4,634 people in China and more than 1.8 million globally.

Local authorities frequently implement a combination of measures, including mass testing, closing schools and restricting travel for those in areas with a cluster of new Covid-19 patients. Chinese customs officials also conduct routine inspections of imported goods to check for traces of the coronavirus.

At the same time, China has tried to reshape the narrative about when and where the pandemic began, with top officials highlighting studies that they claim show the disease emerged in multiple regions.

The head of the World Health Organisation on Tuesday said he was "very disappointed" that China still had not authorised a team of international experts tasked with examining the origins of the coronavirus into the country.

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