China reports highest daily number of coronavirus cases in months

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Infections in Beijing linked to large Xinfadi wholesale food market as neighbourhoods raise risk levels

BEIJING: China reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases in months yesterday with most of them from Beijing.

An infection was reported on Friday in the capital, and since then the total number has climbed to 51, including eight more in the first seven hours yesterday.

The domestic infections in Beijing were linked to the large Xinfadi wholesale food market that has been closed and nearby housing estates put under lockdown.

According to the city's health authority, contact tracing showed all the infected people had either worked or shopped inside Xinfadi, said to be the largest food market in Asia, or had been in contact with someone who was there.

The shock resurgence in domestic infections has rattled China, where the disease emerged late last year but had largely been tamed through severe restrictions on movement that were later emulated across the globe.

It also gives a bleak insight into the difficulties the world will face in conquering Covid-19.

"Beijing has entered an extraordinary period," city spokesman Xu Hejian said.

The Beijing outbreak has already spread to the neighbouring north-eastern province of Liaoning.

According to the provincial health authority, the two new cases confirmed in Liaoning yesterday were both people who had been in close contact with confirmed cases in Beijing.

At least 10 Chinese cities, including Harbin and Dalian, have urged residents not to travel to the capital or to report to the authorities if they have done so recently.

Huaxiang, a neighbourhood which has one of China's biggest used car centres, and is in the same district as the food market, raised its epidemic risk level to high yesterday

It is now the only neighbourhood in the country to be on high alert.

This status means there can be no economic activity until the outbreak is controlled.

As of 3 pm yesterday, 10 neighbourhoods in Beijing had raised their risk levels from low to medium.

"Beijing will not turn into a second Wuhan, spreading the virus to many cities all over the country and needing a lockdown," a government epidemic expert told Health Times.

Former chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Zeng Guang, who is currently a senior expert with the National Health Commission, predicted the outbreak will likely be controlled after the initial spike of a few days, according to the report by Health Times.

An epidemiologist with the Beijing government, Mr Yang Peng, said on Sunday that a DNA sequencing of the virus showed the latest outbreak in the market could have come from Europe.

"Our preliminary assessment is the virus came from overseas. We still can't determine how it got here," state media quoted him as saying.

"It might have been in contaminated seafood or meat, or spread from the faeces of people inside the market." - REUTERS, AFP