2021-12-29 08:52:20

Authorities in Xi’an are scrambling to contain the coronavirus flare-up as the northwestern city logged more than 100 infections for the fourth consecutive day, just weeks before the start of the peak holiday season in the country.

The capital of Shaanxi province has logged nearly 1,000 confirmed local cases since the first infection was detected on Dec. 9, of which 631 were reported between Saturday and Tuesday, according to the provincial health commission. The outbreak has resulted in China’s highest COVID-19 cases since the country largely stamped out the virus in early 2020 and vowed a “zero-COVID” policy.

On Tuesday, all but one of the confirmed local COVID-19 cases were reported in Xi’an. The other infection was found in the eastern city of Nanjing, which also experienced an outbreak over the summer.

In Xi’an, the city’s 13 million people have been placed under lockdown since the midnight of Dec. 23, similar to the measures implemented in the central city of Wuhan during the early days of the pandemic. Medical experts attributed the swift viral transmission in Xi’an to mostly asymptomatic carriers or patients with mild symptoms, delaying detection.

“The recent outbreak has the characteristics of ‘hidden transmission,’” Shi Bingyin, former dean of the First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiao Tong University, told a local media outlet. “Most of the patients were discovered through mass testing instead of them going to hospitals after discovering symptoms.”

Amid rising infections, residents have voiced dissatisfaction over the local government’s handling of the infections. While some questioned the effectiveness of disinfecting large swathes of the city, others complained about the disruption in delivery services due to the lockdown.

Meanwhile, rumors that the city had set up Wuhan-like temporary hospitals and officials forced residents to join disease control-related tasks due to lack of staff had widely circulated online. Local authorities said they are actively using a dedicated website to debunk rumors and misinformation.

Police have detained an unspecified number of people for spreading false information, including an individual who posted false information about the source of the current outbreak, according to domestic media reports. As of Tuesday, six people were also detained for insulting disease control personnel.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: COVID-19 control workers sterilize a street in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Dec. 26, 2021. People Visual)