Covid-19 spreads to 20th province in China as new cases near 800

A medical worker collects a swab following new cases of Covid-19 in Heihe, Heilongjiang province, China, on Oct 31, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China's latest Covid-19 outbreak continues to grow as it shifts east through the nation's rust belt, prompting officials to implement increasingly stringent prevention measures in an effort to control it.

The country's health commission reported 68 local confirmed cases on Friday (Nov 5), plus 22 additional infections that didn't cause any symptoms.

Heilongjiang province in the northeast, which accounted for more than one-third of the total, has become the latest epicenter as a mysterious cluster that emerged in the northern border town, Heihe, ballooned despite a city-wide lockdown.

The latest outbreaks have tended to affect schools.

At least 20 confirmed cases in Heihe have some relation with schools and kindergartens, reported the Global Times.

Heihe College, a local university, shut after 10 close contacts were found, local authorities said on Monday.

Outbreaks involving students were also found in Hebei, which borders Beijing, and Gansu.

Gansu, which reported at least 12 infections among students, suspended in-person classes in more than 10,000 schools and kindergartens.

The closure of more than 60 per cent of schools affected 2.84 million students and 250,000 teachers, the Global Times reported, adding that experts were pushing for faster vaccination of minors.

The latest wave, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant, has reached 20 mainland provinces and is now the broadest outbreak since the virus first appeared in Wuhan in 2019.

Nearly 800 people have been diagnosed in the past three weeks.

While the number of infections may seem low compared to the west, where tens of thousands of cases are reported daily, the zero-tolerance approach pursued in the world's second-largest economy means the rising case count is cause for concern.

China still embarks on mass testing whenever a single case of the deadly pathogen is detected, quarantines everyone that could be infected and limits transportation to other locations to cut off possible transmission.

Beijing reported zero cases for the past two days, after the country ring-fenced the political hub with escalating restrictions, including halting inbound trains from more than 23 locations where infections have been found during the latest outbreak.

Many municipal governments have urged residents not to travel across provinces and discouraged unnecessary departures from their cities.

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