China's Chengdu city tests 250,000 people for Covid-19 after new cluster emerges

The four new cases had been in close contact with two people found to have confirmed cases on Dec 7. PHOTO: AFP

CHENGDU (AFP, CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Chinese authorities have tested more than a quarter of a million people for the coronavirus in the south-western city of Chengdu.

An elderly couple were diagnosed as confirmed cases on Monday (Dec 7), and the authorities have been tracing their close contacts and testing food samples.

Local health officials said the virus was detected on food stored in their fridge and on a chopping board in their flat.

As of Tuesday, 255,200 residents in Chengdu city - provincial capital of Sichuan - had been swabbed for Covid-19 tests, the municipal health commission said, with six confirmed cases and one asymptomatic patient.

Schools and kindergartens in the Pidu district where the cases emerged have closed, according to local authorities, with students and teachers to quarantine and be tested for the virus.

Footage on state TV showed people in a park queueing up to be tested by health officials in hazmat suits.

China has largely brought domestic transmissions under control, with state media blaming recent clusters on imports of frozen food and other shipments.

The World Health Organisation says, however, there is currently no evidence that people can catch Covid-19 from food or food packaging.

Almost a year after the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province, China is stepping up a campaign to question its origins.

A Tianjin health official said in November that the city's infections had been traced to imported cold chain products such as pig heads from North America, saying the virus strains found were similar to those in Europe and the United States.

In Chengdu, the four new cases had been in close contact with the elderly couple found to have confirmed cases on Monday. The two - a 69-year-old woman surnamed Lu who was in serious condition and her 71-year-old husband - live in Group No. 11 in Taiping, a village in suburban Pidu district.

All the newly diagnosed patients were transported to the Public Health Clinical Centre of Chengdu for quarantine and treatment, Chengdu's health commission said on Tuesday.

Peng Qinghua, party secretary of Sichuan province, and head of the leading group handling the Covid-19 pandemic in Sichuan, chaired a meeting on Tuesday in which officials were instructed to respond as if they were at war with the disease as a result of the recent infection.

On Monday afternoon, Taiping was listed as a medium-risk area, meaning residents were not allowed to leave without showing proof of their negative test results.

The district has disinfected five areas-the district hospital, Group No 11 in Taiping, an agricultural wholesale market, a school and a residential quarter, said Liu Yinyong, head of the district government.

Chengdu's entertainment industry association issued an emergency notice on Tuesday, asking managers of public places of entertainment to ensure that the number of customers does not exceed 75 per cent of capacity.

Luan Rongsheng, a professor of epidemiology at the West China School of Public Health of Sichuan University, called the measures taken by the province precise and efficient. The number of new cases is still relatively limited, and the situation is still controllable, making the possibility of a large-scale spread very small, he said.

Sichuan plans to carry out Covid-19 vaccination in three groups: high-risk, endangered and other people.

Vaccination of the high-risk population is expected to be completed by year's end, covering more than 2 million people. Vaccination of the endangered population is to start at the beginning of next year. The third group is expected to be vaccinated after Spring Festival, which is from Feb 11 to 17, Luan said.

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