China ends 2021 with worst COVID week since taming original epidemic


A medical worker in protective suit collects a swab sample from a man for nucleic acid testing at a residential compound, during another round of mass testing following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Xian, Shaanxi province, China December 27, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS/File Photo

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  • Mainland China reported 1,151 new local symptomatic cases in past week
  • Latest outbreak driven by infections in city of Xian

BEIJING, Jan 1 (Reuters) – China ended its final week of 2021 with its biggest tally of local coronavirus cases for any seven-day period since subduing the country’s first epidemic nearly two years ago, despite an arsenal of some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 measures.

The National Health Commission reported on Saturday 175 new community infections with confirmed clinical symptoms for Dec. 31, bringing the total number of local symptomatic cases in mainland China in the past week to 1,151.

The surge has been driven mostly by an outbreak in the northwestern industrial and tech hub of Xian, a city of 13 million.

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The deepening outbreak in Xian will likely firm authorities’ resolve to curb transmissions quicklyas and when cases emerge. The city, under lockdown for 10 days as of Saturday, has reported 1,451 local symptomatic cases since Dec. 9, the highest tally for any Chinese city in 2021.

While China’s case count is tiny compared to many outbreaks elsewhere in the world, forestalling major flare-ups in 2022 will be important. Beijing will be hosting the Winter Olympic Games in February, and the ruling Communist Party will hold a once-every-five-years congress, expected in the fall, where President Xi Jinping will likely secure a third term as party secretary.

The emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant will also drive Beijing to stick to its high vigilance against the virus. China has reported a handful of imported Omicron cases and at least one locally transmitted case.

Since August, China has tried to get any outbreak under control within about two weeks, much shorter than the four to six weeks in earlier battles against sporadic flare-ups following the initial nationwide epidemic, according to the National Health Commission.

Cities along China’s borders are at higher virus risk, either due to the presence of overland transport links or entry of infected travellers from other countries. Some were hit by Delta outbreaks that resulted in harsh travel curbs last year.

Yunnan, which shares a border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, reported new local symptomatic cases on 92 out of 365 days last year, or 25% of the time, more often than any other province, autonomous region or municipality.

Reuters Graphics

XIAN LOCKDOWN

The Xian outbreak, which led to cases in other cities including Beijing, could be traced back to a flight arriving from Pakistan, but it was unclear how it spread to local communities.

Many people have been forbidden from leaving their residential compounds, but a city government official said on Friday curbs would be loosened in less risky compounds when the time was right.

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