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Beijing, provinces impose travel curbs as coronavirus cases mount

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It imposes travel curbs to contain spread of clusters from wholesale food market

BEIJING: The Chinese capital banned high-risk people from leaving and curbed public transport yesterday to stop the spread of the most serious coronavirus flare-up since February, which has stoked fears of a second wave of infections.

The financial hub of Shanghai demanded some travellers from Beijing be quarantined for two weeks, as 27 new Covid-19 cases took the capital's current outbreak to 106 since Thursday.

The coronavirus was first identified in December at a seafood market in Wuhan, capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei, and has since spread around the world, infecting more than 8 million people and killing more than 436,000.

The new outbreak in Beijing has been traced to the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food centre in the south-west of Beijing, where thousands of tonnes of vegetables, fruit and meat are traded each day.

As of Monday, Beijing had designated 22 neighbourhoods as medium-risk areas, requiring them to subject people entering to temperature checks and registration.

So-called high-risk groups in Beijing, including people who are close contacts of confirmed cases, are not allowed to leave the city, state media reported, citing municipal officials.

All outbound taxi and car-hailing services have been suspended. Some long-distance bus routes between Beijing and nearby Hebei and Shandong provinces were halted.

At least three shuttle bus services from Hebei and another from Inner Mongolia to Beijing's Capital Airport, a major regional transit hub, were suspended. Highways out of the capital remained open.

Concerned about contagion risks, many provinces have imposed quarantine requirements on visitors from Beijing.

In the last three days, Hebei, Liaoning and Sichuan have reported new cases linked to the Beijing wholesale centre.

On Tuesday, Shanghai started to require travellers from medium-to-high risk Covid-19 areas in China to be quarantined for 14 days.

While not in a Wuhan-style lockdown, Beijing has gone into a "wartime" mode on a district level, with neighbourhoods instituting 24-hour security checkpoints, closing schools and banning wedding banquets.

China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday that the virus strain found in the Beijing outbreak was a "major epidemic strain in the European countries".

While the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon at Xinfadi, "it does not clearly or definitely indicate it's from imported seafood", chief epidemiologist, Dr Wu Zunyou, said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.

World Health Organisation officials said the origins of the virus are uncertain, describing the claim that it might have been caused by imports or packaging of salmon as a "hypothesis". - REUTERS, AFP

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