There were 30 new locally transmitted cases recorded by the end of Thursday – 15 of them in Harbin, in the northeast province of Heilongjiang, and the rest in Fujian province on the southeast coast.
National Health Commission director Ma Xiaowei met officials in Heilongjiang on Friday, telling them to try to get the outbreak under control before the October 1 holiday begins. He said the situation was complicated and serious since there were still a lot of uncertainties around the outbreak.
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Travellers are being told to avoid the affected areas, meaning the three cities are unlikely to reap the economic benefits of an influx of tourists during one of China’s biggest holiday weeks.
Cases in the Harbin cluster – which first emerged on Tuesday – have been identified as the highly transmissible Delta variant, according to the city government. All of the new Harbin infections were in Bayan county and identified during quarantine and citywide screening for the virus. The number was up from the previous day’s eight cases.
In Fujian – the previous Delta outbreak focus – cases were down from 20 on Wednesday. Four of the new cases were in Putian, where the provincial outbreak began on September 10, and 11 were in Xiamen.
No deaths were reported and authorities have not linked the two clusters.
In addition, 24 imported cases were reported across the country – 13 in Yunnan province, nine in Shanghai, and one each in Fujian and Guangdong, the National Health Commission said.
That brings the total to 1,009 active cases, with 16 in critical condition.
China has largely brought the virus under control and daily case numbers have been relatively low during recent sporadic outbreaks as it takes a “zero-tolerance” approach to the pandemic, containing the spread of the virus with compulsory mass testing, travel restrictions, lockdowns and other measures.
Infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong – dubbed “China’s Dr Fauci” after the US chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci – on Friday said people should be prepared for some prevention and control measures to be part of normal life in “every city and village”.
But he was optimistic that it was “just a matter of time” before the pandemic would be over. “It won’t be too long, with the rapid development of technology in China and around the world,” he said in a post on Weibo.
The remarks come after Zhang sparked controversy in July by saying the pandemic would not end quickly and that the world might need to learn to “coexist” with the coronavirus.
Soon after, former health minister Gao Qiang wrote a strongly worded article rejecting the idea, with some of his remarks apparently taking aim at Zhang. Gao called for “total elimination” of the virus through mass vaccination and strict control measures, especially at the country’s borders. He said the approach of living with the virus in countries like Britain and the United States had brought serious consequences to global efforts to contain the pandemic.
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