CHINA / SOCIETY
Hebei enters 'wartime' mode with dozens of cases related to gatherings
Virus of local outbreak imported sequences: CDC official
Published: Jan 05, 2021 09:11 PM

A kindergarten teacher takes temperatures of children on Monday in Shijiazhuang, North China's Hebei Province. The city entered "wartime mode" after reporting five coronavirus patients and 13 silent carriers over the weekend. Photo: cnsphoto



North China's Hebei Province entered "wartime" mode after recording 59 cases in three days and its capital city is rolling out a city-wide testing, which prompted many to ask if the epidemic is making a big comeback in winter and if the outbreak is controllable.

Shijiazhuang, capital city of Hebei, plans to test all its 11 million residents starting Wednesday and all its middle and primary schools and kindergartens will suspend off-line classes. The city reported 11 infections and 30 silent carriers on Tuesday. Xingtai, another Hebei city, reported three cases.

Feng Zijian, an expert from the China CDC, said the virus found in the two places are imported sequences, likely from Europe.

Hebei authorities also vow to control COVID-19 outbreak as soon as possible, prevent the export of cases and become moat of capital Beijing at a press conference on Tuesday.

All Shijiazhuang cases are traced to Xiaoguozhuang village. The entire township where Xiaoguozhuang is located, was sealed off. All residents from the 20 villages in the township have been taking nucleic acid tests since Sunday, when the first case was reported, local residents told the Global Times. 

All types of gatherings and visits between relatives are banned. Locals are encouraged to report any clustered social activities. To curb the virus' spread, the police have set up roadblocks on routes out of the county. Public venues in the township will be disinfected every day, the Global Times learned. 

The outbreak in Hebei quickly became a hot topic on social media and many netizens expressed concern about whether the disease is making a big comeback and whether the situation is still controllable.

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the spike in cases suggested there might be "blind spots" or "loopholes" in local daily anti-epidemic controls. 

There is not enough evidence to suggest the virus has an unknown means of transmission but a more likely reason is that locals had lowered their guard when attending social activities, Wang said. 

The possibility that the outbreak started from one person who came in contact with contaminated objects or a silent carrier who was unaware of his status cannot be ruled out, he noted.

Epidemiological investigations found that many infections in the village were related to funerals, weddings and social gatherings, according to local authorities.

The scenario in Hebei sounds the alarm for all, that the epidemic could come back at any time although China has accumulated a year of experience in handling the cunning virus, Wang said, noting the importance of keeping vigilant.  

Some locals reached by the Global Times said prior to the latest outbreak, villagers had stopped using masks and public venues such as shopping malls did not check health QR codes or take customers' temperatures before entering.

Villagers, unlike city residents, are used to big social gatherings and visiting each others' homes. A village is a more stable small society and people may think they are safe as long as they do not come into contact with strangers, and thus they loosen control measures, experts analyzed. 

Downtown Shijiangzhuang, 50 kilometers from the high-risk area, is getting serious as well. Entertainment events have been cancelled. Shopping malls are seeing fewer customers. Some enterprises have demanded their employees to work at home.

A resident who lives in Yuhua district told the Global Times on Tuesday that she has stored up living supplies at home in case of a more severe epidemic situation and a sudden sealing off of her community.   Residents also expect the epidemiological investigation results to be released faster, or rumors and speculation will make people uneasy.

Hebei will conduct supervision on epidemic prevention and control measures through various means, including secret visits, in order to strengthen its implementation, especially during the Spring Festival, local authorities said on Tuesday.

Wang believed that the epidemic is controllable at the moment given the government's response measures and the cooperative attitude of the public. It is urgent to find the source of the infections and make sure to quarantine people who have infection risks. 

Medical experts said that as Spring Festival is about to come, the entire country should draw a lesson from previous outbreaks - that is, to keep wearing masks, washing hands and reducing gatherings.
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