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2021-11-05 09:29:26

As China begins vaccinating children against COVID-19, the central province of Henan is battling a school-centered outbreak.

By Thursday evening, the provincial capital Zhengzhou had confirmed 14 positive cases since the first patients were diagnosed on Tuesday – six of them students from the same primary school. All of the infected students are aged 6 or 7.

Two students at Xingyang Donglin Shui’an Primary School were among the first three cases confirmed on Tuesday. The first case involved a 7-year-old girl who tested positive along with her father after they visited a local hospital for a fever. Her father, an English tutor, had been paying home visits to students at a few residential compounds in the previous two weeks.

Home tutoring has been banned by Chinese authorities since the launch of the “double reduction” policy in late July, aiming to ease students from the burden of school homework and extracurricular training. In practice, however, many continue to operate under the radar.

A university student from Zhengzhou, surnamed Zhao, told Sixth Tone that home tutoring services are popular in his home city. “It’s common in Zhengzhou that you find a home tutor through familiar connections. But this incident will definitely make people more cautious,” he said.

By Wednesday, over 3,000 teachers, students, and parents associated with the school at the center of the outbreak had received nucleic acid tests, with another four positive results. The results of the second round of tests will come out later on Friday. Sixth Tone’s call to the local disease control office in Zhengzhou went unanswered on the day.

Feng Jing, the mother of a fourth-grader in the city at an open school, said she’s following instructions to continue sending her son to school despite her concerns. “Nothing matters more than health,” Feng told Sixth Tone. “The situation makes us worried, but there’s nothing we can do about it – our child must continue going to school.”

At the moment, Zhengzhou is also testing more than 20,000 students and teaching staff in six other local schools, citing “close contacts” with the confirmed cases. On Friday morning, the city authority ordered the closure of all tourist destinations and indoor entertainment such as cinemas, KTVs, and bars.

The outbreak comes as China begins a national effort to vaccinate children, targeting children aged between 3 and 11, following emergency approval of a vaccine for young children. Zhengzhou began an effort to vaccinate its 1.52 million children Monday. The city’s Disease Control Center said it aims to complete the drive by the end of December.

Schools in Beijing have also been affected during the ongoing outbreak. After cases including a primary school teacher and the teacher’s child were confirmed in the capital Monday, two schools in downtown Chaoyang District were shut, with thousands of students kept on campus into the evening for tests. Although no one has tested positive so far, the two facilities, together with 16 related schools in the district, have remained closed.

Additional reporting: Zhu Jingyi; editor: David Cohen.

(Header image: Local residents receive COVID-19 test in Zhengzhou, Henan province, Nov. 5, 2021. People Visual)