Two northern Chinese areas Erenhot, Ejina enforce lockdown in Covid-19 outbreak

BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - China reported nine new domestically transmitted Covid-19 cases for Oct 18, the highest daily tally since the end of last month, with the latest outbreak prompting two northern border areas to enforce a lockdown.

Under a national policy of zero tolerance of domestic coronavirus clusters, cities with new infections have quickly tracked down and tested contacts of infections and sealed off higher-risk areas.

Five of the nine new local cases were found in the northwestern city of Xian in Shaanxi province, and two were in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, data from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed on Tuesday (Oct 19).

Erenhot city in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, which shares a border with Mongolia, advised its 76,000 residents on Monday not to step out of their residential compounds unless for necessary matters. Since Oct 13, it has reported a total of four local cases as of Tuesday morning.

Vehicles were banned from leaving or entering the city, except for essential cars with official clearance, the Erenhot health authority said in a statement on Monday.

The city also closed indoor public venues such as cinemas, internet cafes and gyms, and suspended tourist sites as well as places for religious activities.

Ejina Banner, an administrative division in another part of Inner Mongolia, has closed all entrance and exit channels, launched a testing scheme on its 36,000 population and suspended school, local authorities said.

Ejina had found five new local cases as of Tuesday morning in the latest outbreak. All were in close contact with two patients found in Xian on Oct 17, the local authority said.

The north-western city of Xian in Shaanxi province reported five local cases for Oct 18.

The city has suspended some tourist sites to carry out disinfection, and require those arriving in the city from outside Shaanxi province to show proof of negative test results within 48 hours before they can visit tourist sites or stay at hotels.

The latest spate of cases has been linked to two retired university lecturers from Shanghai, who started a holiday trip with several others in early October and were found to be infected days later in Shaanxi Province, according to media reports.

The couple tested positive on Saturday during their tour, which started around Oct 9 and included a road trip through Gansu and Inner Mongolia, according to the Global Times.

A day earlier, on Friday (Oct 15), the couple underwent batch testing in Gansu, where they were informed that their results came back abnormal.

They left nevertheless, without informing the authorities, and continued on to Shaanxi. The next day they were tested again and found to be infected. While they were waiting for that result, they travelled around the provincial capital of Xian and visited many scenic spots. Shaanxi province subsequently reported several infections, with Inner Mongolia and Gansu both reporting new cases on Tuesday.

The outbreak has now spread to the closely-guarded capital city of Beijing. One traveler from Gansu - a close contact of an infected patient - was diagnosed in Beijing on Monday.

It is the city's first case since a widespread outbreak caused by the highly infectious Delta variant this summer prompted officials to scrap travel there to stop further transmission.

Authorities have now sealed off apartment buildings and other related venues, according to a statement on Tuesday from local health officials.

It is the latest resurgence in China, the last holdout of several so-called Covid Zero countries seeking to eliminate the virus. It comes just days after the country contained two separate Delta outbreaks in its northeastern and coastal provinces.

The southern city of Changsha in Hunan province and north-western Yinchuan in the Ningxia autonomous region also reported one case each for Oct 18, according to the NHC data.

Yinchuan has advised residents not to leave town for unnecessary trips, and closed public venues such as bars and cinemas in two districts with higher virus risk.

Officials have not provided details on how the people were infected, or whether they had contracted any variants of concern.

Including infected travellers who arrived in China from abroad, there were 25 cases in total, compared with 24 a day earlier, for Oct 18.

The country also detected 19 new asymptomatic patients for Oct 18, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases. No new deaths were reported, leaving the death toll unchanged at 4,636.

Mainland China has so far reported 96,571 confirmed coronavirus cases since the outbreak began in late 2019.

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