China has logged its highest number of coronavirus cases in nearly a month, prompting one county to shut down public transportation and test hundreds of thousands of people.
On Sunday, the Chinese authorities reported 22 new locally transmitted infections, all in the southern province of Fujian and caused by the Delta variant. The number was the highest since Aug. 14, when 24 cases were recorded.
The outbreak over the weekend bucked a downward trend of cases, which had fallen for more than a month since Aug. 9, when China reported 109 infections. While Sunday’s case count is far below many other countries, the number reflects what health experts have long warned: that it is probably nearly impossible to completely eradicate the Delta variant, and that Beijing needs to rethink its zero-Covid strategy.
The government said that the outbreak started on Sept. 10 in a primary school in Xianyou, a county in Fujian. An initial analysis showed that the infections had been imported by an adult who had returned from Singapore.
The authorities in Fujian have ordered mass testing of all students and teachers to be completed within a week. The city of Xiamen has closed off two districts and a hospital after identifying coronavirus patients. In Xianyou, buses and taxi services have been suspended. More than 900,000 residents in the county have been called up for testing, with threats of criminal punishment for anyone who does not cooperate.
The local authorities said that most of the infected were young children.
A team from the National Health Commission that has been sent to Fujian said that it would probably detect more cases, but added that the outbreak could be controlled before the weeklong National Day holiday, according to CCTV, the state broadcaster.
Beijing is likely to be nervous about the approaching holidays, a time when Chinese people travel and gather, which could heighten the risk of infection. The three-day Mid-Autumn Festival starts this month, and the National Day “golden week” holiday starts the first week of October.
Last month, China stamped out multiple Delta outbreaks that swept across half the country through mass testing, contact tracing, and targeted lockdowns. But health experts have warned that the measures come at a punishing economic and social cost and may exacerbate weariness among the public.