China recorded its highest number of coronavirus cases in nearly a month, prompting a county to shut down public transport and test hundreds of thousands of people.
Chinese authorities reported 22 new locally transmitted infections on Sunday, all in the southern province of Fujian and caused by the Delta variant. The number was the highest since August 14, when 24 cases were recorded.
The weekend outbreak thwarted a downward trend in cases, which had declined for more than a month since August 9, when China reported 109 infections. While Sunday’s case count is far lower than many other countries, the number reflects what health experts have long warned: that it is probably nearly impossible to eradicate the Delta variant completely, and that Beijing must rethink its zero-Covid strategy.
The government said the outbreak began on September 10 at an elementary school in Xianyou, Fujian County. An initial analysis showed that the infections had been imported by an adult returning from Singapore.
Fujian authorities ordered the mass testing of all students and teachers to be completed within a week. Xiamen city closed two districts and a hospital after identifying coronavirus patients. In Xianyou, bus and taxi services have been suspended. More than 900,000 county residents have been called for testing, with threats of criminal penalties for anyone who does not cooperate.
Local authorities said most of those infected were young children.
A team from the National Health Commission that was sent to Fujian said it would likely detect more cases, but added that the outbreak could be brought under control before the National Day holiday week, according to CCTV, the state broadcaster.
Beijing will likely be nervous as the holidays approach, a time when Chinese travel and congregate, which could increase the risk of infection. The three-day Mid-Autumn Festival begins this month, and the National Day “Golden Week” holiday begins in the first week of October.
China last month stamped out several Delta outbreaks that have swept across half the country through mass testing, contact tracing and targeted lockdowns. But health experts have warned that the measures have penalizing economic and social costs and could exacerbate public weariness.