Fri, 22 Jan 2021

BEIJING, China, January 8 (ANI): Amid the Chinese claims of COVID-19 containment, another Wuhan awaits in Hebei province, a geographical buffer zone around the capital Beijing, reported Asia Times.

"Sparkles of cases here and there setting an entire prairie ablaze", said National Health Commission (NHC) and provincial authorities on Thursday after sporadic outbreaks since the New Year in Hebei's capital of Shijiazhuang has grown into bigger clusters that now threaten to spread through the entire city.

Frank Chen writing for Asia Times opined that though strict new lockdown measures imposed on Hebei province's Shijiazhuang, the virus may have already spread to the nearby national capital and beyond.

Shijiazhuang and the rest of Hebei has recorded more than 100 local infections since Monday, with 53 new cases alone on Thursday, marking arguably the biggest wave seen in China after Beijing lifted its lockdown on the original epidemic epicentre of Wuhan in early April, reported Asia Times.

Shijiazhuang, home to more than ten million residents has been put under sweeping and draconian anti-virus measures, just like Wuhan's 76-day lockdown. It is a clear indicator of the grave situation, said Frank.

Shijiazhuang has shut its main train station with all Beijing-bound departures suspended until February 4. Expressways to Beijing and Tianjin from the city were also closed on Wednesday evening, but one-way trips from Beijing to the city are for now still allowed. Most flights to and from Shijiazhuang have also been cancelled, with passengers from the city facing the prospect of mandatory quarantine in their destinations, even if they have negative virus test results. China Post and SF Express have stopped the collection and delivery of parcels in the city, reported Asia Times.

The outbreaks are putting China's anti-virus response mechanism to a crucial new test, one that threatens to undercut the country's so far successful containment of the disease. More surveillance cameras have been installed to check on residents given shelter-at-home orders, with police constables in the streets on the lookout for lockdown violaters, said Frank.

Meanwhile, NHC director Ma Xiaowei has blamed an asymptomatic carrier of the virus for the outbreaks. Undetected by layers of screening in place, the carrier reportedly crisscrossed Hebei and Beijing, reported Asia Times.

Moreover, Ma's deputy Feng Zijian, who oversees the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention said, "Insufficient Covid-19 detection and diagnosis in frontline hospitals and clinics have become a weakness in China's efforts to keep the infection curve flat."

Panic is already spreading despite the modest numbers, with shelves at supermarkets stripped bare of food and daily necessities as Beijingers fear they may too soon be told to stay at home.

Panic-buying hoards have ironically sparked fears of more infections. Beijing's government has assured people of ample supplies of food and said that stores must ensure people are spaced out and admissions are staggered, reported Asia Times. (ANI)

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