Asia Today: Chinese city tests millions amid fresh outbreak


Millions of people are lining up in subzero temperatures to receive a second round of coronavirus tests in a city south of Beijing that is at the heart of China’s most serious latest outbreak of COVID-19

The National Health Commission announced Wednesday that another 90 confirmed cases had been reported in Hebei province, whose capital Shijiazhuang has accounted for the vast majority of recent cases. Another 16 cases were reported in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and one in the northern province of Shanxi.

China, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, had largely contained domestic spread of the virus and the new outbreaks come even as authorities push to vaccinate 50 million people by the middle February.

The Hebei outbreak is of particular concern because of the province’s close proximity to Beijing. Travel to and from three cities, Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Langfang, has been suspended and residents of some communities have been told to stay home for the next week.

All of Shijiazhuang’s roughly 10 million people have been ordered to undergo a second round of testing as authorities seek to isolate the sources of the outbreak. Some of the infections have been tentatively linked to wedding gatherings.

Similar measures have been ordered around the country, particularly in Wuhan, where 11 million people were placed under lockdown for 76 days last winter during the early days of the pandemic.

The increased numbers come as World Health Organization experts prepare to fly on Thursday to Wuhan at the start of their investigation into the origins of the pandemic.

China has rejected calls for an independent investigation while strictly controlling all research into the origins of the coronavirus and promoting fringe theories that the virus may have actually been brought to China from outside.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— A South Korean court has acquitted a religious sect leader of charges that he deliberately disrupted the government’s anti-virus response after thousands of his worshippers were infected with the coronavirus. The court, however, found Lee Man-hee guilty of embezzling church funds and organizing unauthorized worship services. His three-year prison term will be suspended for four years. The Shincheonji Church of Jesus denied any wrongdoing by Lee and confirmed plans to appeal. Prosecutors had accused Lee and his church of violating the country’s infectious disease law by deliberately hiding some of the church’s membership and under-reporting its gatherings. But the court said it was unclear whether the church’s failure to provide a full list of its membership was a crime.



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