Residents of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai have said to stay home amid fears of a new virus outbreak.
Chinese officials have told residents of two cities south of Beijing to stay at home for seven days as they attempt to eradicate a COVID-19 outbreak in which more than 300 people have tested positive last week.
Shijiazhuang, capital of the Hebei province that surrounds Beijing, suspended service on the city’s subway, then extended the ban to all public transport, including taxis. The province this week entered a “war mode” to fight infections.
At a press conference on Saturday, provincial authorities said mass tests for the virus had been carried out on 16 million residents of Shijiazhuang as well as the nearby city of Xingtai.
Ma Yujun, deputy mayor of Shijiazhuang, said the city is working to locate the source of the outbreak.
“We have yet to see a clear turning point in this epidemic,” said Shijiazhuang official Ma Yujun. “The risk of expansion still exists.”
New year celebrations
The sidewalks precede the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of people travel across China to visit family and friends. Deputy Minister of the National Health Commission Zeng Yixin warned on Saturday that the festival “will further increase the risk of transmission.”
Shijiazhuang and Xingtai restrict people to their communities and villages and have banned gatherings, according to notices posted on social media.
Hebei reported 14 more confirmed cases in the last 24-hour period, bringing the total for the ongoing outbreak to 137. He found 197 other people without symptoms who tested positive. China is not including these asymptomatic cases in its confirmed tally.
Beijing is asking Hebei workers to show proof of employment in Beijing and a negative COVID-19 test before entering the nation’s capital. Chinese media reported on Friday of several-hour backups at the entry points.
In a separate outbreak, three more cases were reported in northeastern Liaoning Province, bringing the total to 84 since the first cases emerged about three weeks ago. Beijing has had 31 cases in the same period, but no new cases in the past 24 hours.
Some 3,000 medical staff have been mobilized to support mass testing of Shijiazhuang’s 11 million residents, as the entire province went into “war mode” to contain the epidemic.
Anti-corruption authorities said earlier that three local officials had been punished for failing to crack down on the spread of the virus, after a state media comment censored the provincial government for poor preparation and lack of transparency .
China separately announced on Saturday that coronavirus vaccines will be free nationwide.
“Ordinary people won’t need to spend a dime,” Zheng Zhongwei, an official with the National Health Commission, said at a press conference.
Authorities are rushing to roll out vaccines with more than nine million doses administered to date.
Health officials recently gave conditional approval to a vaccine candidate by Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, with emergency injections already given by the end of 2020.