Beijing on Wednesday recorded its first case of Covid-19 in nearly six months, as Chinese authorities scramble to prevent the spread of the Delta variant amid an outbreak linked to an airport in the populated city of Nanjing, in ballast.
The latest outbreak first emerged last week after more than a dozen cases were detected among cleaning staff at Nanjing Lukou International Airport. This prompted authorities to launch mass tests for more than 9 million residents from July 21; a second round of mass testing ended over the weekend and a third round began on Wednesday.
At least 175 cases so far have been linked to the airport cluster, which officials have linked to the more infectious Delta variant.
“The recent spike in infections in the city can be attributed to the particular location of the outbreak and the highly contagious nature of the strain (Delta),” said Ding Jie, vice director of the control and control center. Nanjing disease prevention, at a press conference. conference, state media reported on Tuesday.
Despite the rapid and aggressive testing campaign, the virus appears to have already spread beyond Jiangsu Province.
China recorded 49 new cases on Wednesday, including 24 local infections in three additional provinces, according to the National Health Commission (NHC), bringing the total number of cases associated with the new cluster to at least 175.
A second new case was reported in Beijing on Thursday afternoon, with health officials describing the two local cases as a husband and wife who had recently traveled outside the capital. The couple’s relatives have been placed in quarantine.
Although the latest national tally marks a slight drop from the 86 cases recorded on Tuesday – the largest single-day increase since January – the spread of the virus across provincial borders raises alarm bells among the country’s leaders, after more a year of low number of cases and resumed daily life.
A little background: The coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in China in late 2019, spreading rapidly across China and the world. Yet despite being the first country to succumb to the virus, China has since managed to contain its spread. Since March 2020, official case numbers have remained low and the occasional outbreaks have been quickly contained with mass testing and severe restrictions, including the massive lockdown of hundreds of millions across the country.
The current outbreak, however, poses a new threat, with the more transmissible delta variant identified in the eastern city of Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province and a major industrial and transportation hub housing more than 9.3 million people.
It will also be a test of the effectiveness of China’s mass vaccination program, which has administered more than 1.5 billion doses so far – a scale and speed unmatched by any other country in the world.
Other countries in the region, including Thailand and Australia, have also been affected by the Delta variant and are currently battling epidemics. But these countries have also had to cope with a slow rollout of immunization due to delays and shortages. This contrasts sharply with China, which is on track to meet its goal of achieving so-called “herd immunity” – the point at which enough people have been infected or vaccinated to end community transmission – by December of this year.