China launches emergency testing to control new Kashgar outbreak; high number of asymptomatic Covid-19 cases

A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus uses an alcohol tissue to disinfect a bicycle of bike-sharing companies during the morning rush hour in Beijing, on Monday (Oct 26, 2020). Schools and kindergartens have been suspended and communities are on lockdown in Kashgar, a city in China's northwest Xinjiang region, after 137 asymptomatic cases of the coronavirus were discovered. - AP

BEIJING, Oct 26 (Bloomberg): China has tested nearly three million people in Xinjiang province to tackle a cluster of coronavirus cases, in the latest example of the country’s aggressive approach to bring new outbreaks under control.

A 17-year-old teenager in Kashgar prefecture was found through routine testing to have contracted the virus.

Subsequent testing found 137 cases, all related to a factory where the teenager’s parents worked. Each of the cases were asymptomatic, according to Xinjiang’s health authorities.

Free testing is being rolled out for nearly 4.75 million people in Kashgar, in the far west of China. As of 2 pm on Sunday, 2.83 million people had undergone testing, while results for 334,800 people have already come out negative.

Authorities have implemented controls on mobility within 10km of the county where the cluster was found, but transportation in the region remains open and residents can leave if they tested negative within the past seven days. No restrictions are placed on external visitors.

While new infections in China had remained below 100 a day since mid-August, with most of them imported, the country continues to see small flare-ups, with the most recent in the eastern port city of Qingdao earlier this month.

It has managed to stamp out these clusters -- including an outbreak in Beijing in June -- through mass testing campaigns that screen millions of citizens for the virus within days.

The new outbreak in Kashgar reflects the difficulty of stamping out the coronavirus entirely in any one country.

Other Asian nations like Thailand and New Zealand have maintained long stretches of virus-free periods, only to see the pathogen appear again.

Still, China so far has been able to stamp out each new cluster, even as the US and Europe struggle with fresh waves of record infections.

Even then, although the number of new Covid-19 cases are down sharply in mainland China from the peaks seen in February, Beijing is wary of another wave of infections and maintains mass and rapid testing capabilities.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China to date now stands at 85,810, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634. - Bloomberg
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