Coronavirus has returned to Wuhan – the city where initial infections emerged in late 2019 – as three cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant were confirmed Tuesday by Chinese authorities.
Officials are now rushing to test the city’s 12 million residents in efforts to contain the virus – again.
After a botched response at the start of the pandemic, local authorities appear to be taking no chances this time around, setting up 18 quarantine centres that are nearly already all full with more than 2000 people in isolation, local public health authorities said.
Wuhan, the first city in the world to discover infections of a novel coronavirus, was a pioneer in strict lockdowns and mass testing – a pandemic emergency response playbook now common globally as nations continue to battle the virus.
Recent cases in Wuhan were first spotted Sunday when seven Chinese migrant workers in Wuhan tested positive. By Monday, the city’s education bureau ordered a halt to all in-person classes.
Authorities said that the Delta variant cases in Wuhan were linked to a cluster in nearby Jiangsu province, where infections have been mushrooming around the provincial capital of Nanjing since late July.
Officials have said they think the variant was most likely introduced into Nanjing on a flight from Russia.
Since then a number of cities, including the country’s capital, Beijing, have found new infections, pushing the tally of local transmissions in China to more than 400 cases.
Nanjing and other cities have also begun suspending transport links, including taxis and flights. In some cases, travellers are now required to have negative test results from within 48 hours of departure for domestic travel.
Online, people lamented the outbreak: “Give Wuhan a break,” wrote one person.
Meanwhile, China has stopped issuing and renewing passports, severely restricting the movements of its citizens, in a necessary “reform” to defend against the coronavirus pandemic.
Passport applications have been pushed back this year, and no decision has been made on when, or under what circumstances, the ban will be relaxed, according to a government notice online.
Only those deemed by the government to have an “urgent” need to travel will have their passport applications processed.
Government officials have said allowable reasons would include for work or study purposes, but decisions are being made on a case-by-case basis.
The previously unannounced policy change – already in practice for many months – has significantly reduced the number of passports China typically issues to just 2 per cent in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.
Some people questioned whether the government’s decision to stop issuing passports was truly due to public health concerns.
“The gate is closing,” wrote one person online. “Whether or not the door can be reopened has little to do with Covid-19.”
Authorities in China have long denied passports to certain individuals, including ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans, even when they have received invitations to work or study abroad, whom officials fear may defect or campaign about human rights abuses in the country.
Exit bans have also been enforced on dissidents and foreign citizens, some of whom remain stuck in China and unable to leave.
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