BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing closed places of worship on Friday and authorities in the Chinese capital restricted access to a highway to the city of Shijiazhuang, nearly 300 km (185 miles) to the southwest, which is battling a new cluster of coronavirus infections.
The number of new cases in China remains small compared with outbreaks in some other countries, and compared with early last year at the height of its outbreak, which emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Authorities have taken aggressive measures, including mass testing and sealing off of high-risk communities, to stamp out new clusters but small outbreaks have been flaring, especially as winter set in.
All of Beijing's 155 religious sites were closed to the public, a city official said, while some entry and exit ramps to the highway to Shijiazhuang were blocked off.
Festivities for next month's Lunar New Year have also been banned in rural parts of the sprawling capital.
In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province that surrounds Beijing, most flights in and out were cancelled on Friday, as of late afternoon, according to Flightradar24, a day after the city of 11 million barred people from leaving.
Shijiazhuang accounted for 31 of the 37 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases and 35 of the 57 asymptomatic cases reported in mainland China on Thursday.
The city has launched a local COVID-19 testing drive, banned gatherings and ordered vehicles and people in high-risk areas to remain in their districts to keep the infections from spreading.
The northeastern province of Liaoning, which reported two new local infections and one new imported infection on Thursday, also said on Friday it had extended the quarantine period for arrivals from overseas to 21 days from 14.
Once those people are released from quarantine, they will be monitored for another seven days in their homes.
They will be asked to avoid unnecessary trips and public transport and to stay away from group activities during the monitoring period, Liaoning Daily, the official newspaper the provincial committee of the Communist party, reported on Friday.
Meanwhile, the industrial city of Chifeng in Inner Mongolia, some 340 km northeast of Beijing and not far from the region's borders with Hebei and Liaoning, has gone into "war-time mode" in the fight against the virus, its government said. Hebei entered the same mode on Tuesday.
People in Chifeng must not go out unless strictly necessary, and checks on vehicles will be stepped up on highways connecting the city to Hebei and Liaoning, the authorities said. Inner Mongolia has not reported any locally transmitted cases in 2021.
For all of mainland China, new COVID-19 cases reported on Friday fell to 53 from 63 a day earlier. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to date now stands at 87,331, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.
(Reporting by Jing Wang and David Stanway in Shanghai and Roxanne Liu and Tony Munroe in Beijing; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Gerry Doyle and Hugh Lawson)