China logs highest number of Covid-19 cases in four months, more Omicron cases found

<p>People wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak walk on a shopping street in Shanghai, China, December 14, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song</p>
People wearing face masks following the coronavirus outbreak walk on a shopping street in Shanghai, China on Dec 14, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - China on Saturday (Dec 25)  reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases in four months as officials rushed to contain outbreaks in several regions, including Xi’an city where millions are still under lockdown.

China, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, is on high alert for new infections as it prepares to hold the Winter Olympics in February in the capital Beijing.

Of the 140 new infections, 87 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared to 55 a day earlier.

Most were in Xi’an, in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, where 13 million residents have been under lockdown since Thursday.

Xi'an detected 75 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for Dec 24, its highest daily count of the year and reversing the previous day's decline, official data showed on Saturday (Dec 25).

In the southern city of Shenzhen, five passengers who arrived on Wednesday, on a flight from Los Angeles, tested positive for the coronavirus, and three were confirmed to be Omicron infections on Dec 24, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Xi'an, which started a new round of mass testing on Saturday, has announced no infections caused by the Omicron variant.

Footage from state broadcaster CCTV Saturday showed long queues outside Xi’an testing centres as officials rushed to stamp out the latest flareup.

Nationwide, China has reported a handful of Omicron infections among international travellers and in southern China.

Xi'an's locally transmitted symptomatic cases, at 330 for the Dec 9-Dec 24 period, are few compared with outbreaks in many other countries, but the city has imposed heavy-handed measures in line with Beijing's policy to contain local transmission as quickly as possible.

Residents are banned from leaving town without clearance from employers or local authorities and households can send only one person to shop for necessities every two days.

Other family members may not leave home unless they have essential jobs or urgent matters approved by employers or communities.

"So far the turning point for the outbreak is yet to come, and stringent curbs are necessary," Dr Zhang Boli, who helped to shape China's early Covid-19 response and treatment, told state media.

Local officials have also faced punishment over the outbreak and domestic flights scheduled to depart the city on Friday were cancelled.

Local authorities who are deemed to have failed at controlling the virus in their region are regularly sacked or reprimanded under Beijing’s strict zero-Covid approach.

Xi'an ChenXi Aviation Technology, a supplier of aviation technology to the Chinese military, said late on Friday it had temporarily suspended production due to the outbreak, which it expects to hurt its 2021 operating income.

Western Securities said on Friday its Xi'an-based branches have stopped offering face-to-face services to clients.

An oncology hospital said on Saturday its outpatient department and emergency room had stopped receiving patients due to Covid-19, after several other hospitals made similar moves.

Cases from Xi’an have so far spread to five other cities including Beijing, according to state media, fuelling fears about how quickly the virus can spread geographically across the vast country.

Nationwide, China has reported a handful of Omicron infections among international travellers and in southern China.

China's nationwide figures confirmed 87 local symptomatic cases for Dec 24, up from 55 a day earlier. There were also 53 confirmed cases among international travellers on Dec 24.

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