Hebei in ‘wartime mode’ amid fresh cluster of coronavirus cases

Science & Health

The province surrounding Beijing is responding rapidly to a new outbreak of COVID-19, hoping to stop the spread of the virus before travel for Chinese New Year commences.

Hebei covid
Image from Hebei Daily

North China’s Hebei Province, which surrounds the country’s capital, Beijing, has put itself on a “wartime” footing in response to a fresh uptick in COVID-19 cases, local media reported (in Chinese) on Tuesday.

  • The province has reported 39 confirmed cases — patients showing symptoms — and 83 asymptomatic cases in the past four days, most of which came from Hebei’s capital, Shijiazhuang, according to data (in Chinese) from the National Health Commission.
  • The new outbreak emerged after a solid six months of zero cases in the region.
  • The sudden spike in the number of infections has prompted the local authorities to go into what they called “wartime” mode to stem the spread of COVID-19 in three particularly hard-hit cities — Shijiazhuang, Xingtai, and Zhangjiakou.

Travel into and out of Shijiazhuang has been strictly restricted.

  • 10 major highways that cross the city, a bus terminus, and its central railway station have been closed
  • All schools in Shijiazhuang have been ordered to shutter for an indefinite period of time.
  • The city is on track to complete a citywide nucleic acid testing campaign covering all 11 million residents.

How did the cluster emerge?

One of the city’s new patients had recently attended three weddings.

  • “What’s special about this outbreak is that most patients exhibited symptoms and they contracted the virus in family gatherings,” said Lú Fēi 芦飞, head of Shijiazhuang city’s center for disease control and prevention.
  • Intimate details about the confirmed cases were disclosed to the public, including the movements of the infected people and when they started to show symptoms.
  • Féng Zǐjiàn 冯子健, deputy director of the China CDC, told (in Chinese) China Central Television (CCTV) that the new cluster of infections could be traced back to a viral variant from overseas, possibly from Europe.

Over the past week, multiple Chinese provinces and cities have reported new local COVID-19 cases, including more than 10 cases in Beijing.

  • With the Spring Festival quickly approaching, health authorities in various cities — especially those that have a significant population of migrant workers — have advised against (in Chinese) “unnecessary traveling” in the next few weeks.
  • Cities like Shanghai and Xiamen have encouraged local employers to be flexible with their holiday policies so that migrant workers could avoid peak travel times to see their families.