Children in quarantine, city in lockdown as China battles Covid-19 outbreak

Residents of Xiamen in China’s southeastern Fujian province went into lockdown on Monday night, as an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 continued its rapid spread.

The decision to place all residential areas of the city under “closed-loop” management – which bans people from leaving their local area – and shut all entertainment venues was made after 32 infections were identified on Monday, most of them traced back to Putian where the latest outbreak originated.

Celebrations and events for the next week’s Mid-Autumn Festival have been cancelled and all large gatherings banned. Weddings must be postponed and funerals held in a “simple manner”, while all schools – from kindergarten to university – have been ordered to switch to online tutoring, according to the city government.

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Across the province, 60 new infections were reported on Monday, including one case which had yet to show symptoms, bringing the total number to 135. Of these, 85 were reported in Putian, including eight kindergarten pupils and 28 primary schoolchildren. One of the Putian cases was asymptomatic. Three of the new cases were in Quanzhou.

In Putian’s Xianyou county, where the outbreak began, a second round of large-scale, county-wide testing has begun. A first round of mass-testing was completed on Monday.

It is estimated the coronavirus was quietly spreading in the community for days before two siblings from a Xianyou primary school tested positive last Thursday, when the facility tested all its pupils on their return for the autumn semester.

Investigations revealed the children’s father had returned from Singapore on August 4 and completed 21 days of central quarantine, followed by seven days of home health monitoring. The man was confirmed as a positive case on Friday. Thirty-six children were also infected and another chain of cases emerged at a shoe factory where the man’s wife worked.

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Xianyou county head Wu Hairui told state broadcaster CCTV that 1,500 close contacts of the infected original cases, along with a further 1,600 people secondary contacts, were in quarantine, including schoolchildren.

Wu said the situation was severe because of the fast spread and the many children involved, “but we must make sure the chain of transmission is cut”.

Measures to help make the situation more comfortable for the children include having two per room, giving them books and pictures and putting their parents next door so they can talk through the walls, Wu said.

He added that experts sent by the National Health Commission had said three rounds of citywide coronavirus tests would be needed before an initial assessment could be made on the seriousness of the outbreak.

Fujian’s education department last week gave all schools in the province until Sunday to complete coronavirus testing.

Huang Senzhong, an epidemiologist with Tianjin’s Nankai University, told Health Times – published by party mouthpiece People’s Daily – that he expected the outbreak to continue spreading, with connected cases in other cities emerging this week.

Huang estimated as many as 500 people could eventually test positive in the outbreak, which he predicted would be contained within four weeks.

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