This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The COVID-19 pandemic produced spikes cases in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province this week, prompting an order for its 37.5 million residents to stay home, while Hebei, the province that surrounds Beijing, reported scores of new cases and its first coronavirus death in nearly eight months, authorities said.
The Health Commission of Heilongjiang Province announced that 43 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Wednesday, and another 68 asymptomatic cases were reported. Local authorities have been conducting contact tracing and implementing strict quarantine measures, and disinfecting places that the new group of COVID-19 patients have visited.
Heilongjiang announced a state of emergency, ordering its 37.5 million residents to stay in place, and putting Suihua, a city of 5 million, under lockdown Monday after 45 asymptomatic cases were reported.
A resident of Lanxi county, in Suihua city surnamed Li told RFA Thursday that the local government ordered an indefinite home quarantine:
“Currently, the towns will be under lockdown no matter whether there are cases reported or not. The government is locking down cities, towns, and villages. Then the officials will conduct COVID-19 Nucleic Acid PCR tests. There is no clear indication as to when the lockdown will lifted,” he told RFA.
Wangkui county resident Li Hui, whose neighborhood was hard hit by COVID-19, told RFA that there are 56 asymptomatic cases in her county.
“Several communities have been locked down. The city is in lockdown. Even our family members were infected. More than 60 communities were shut down,” she said.
Heilongjiang provincial capital Harbin resident Liu Yang told RFA that there had been a COVID-19 case reported two days ago. Now even going to the supermarket in the community requires undergoing strict checks.
“We have have our temperature checked before being allowed to enter the market. Masks are mandatory. Registration is also required. It’s getting strict again,” said Liu.
In Hebei, the provincial health commission of reported Thursday 81 new COVID-confirmed cases in the province, 75 of which were reported in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang, while another six cases were recorded in Xingtai city.
There were no details available on the new death case in Hebei, the province’s first confirmed COVID-19 death case in 8 months.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) Deputy Director Feng Zijian told Chinese media that compared to the previous outbreaks, there are more cases in the current Shijiazhuang outbreak, and the spread is much faster.
Shijiazhuang, with a population of 11 million is in comprehensive lockdown now, with individuals and vehicles not permitted to leave the city.
A truck driver from Baoding city in Hebei said he was denied access when he tried to refuel his truck in a gas station in Korla, in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
In a video that was widely shared on social media, the driver complained as a gas station employee refused to fill his tank.
“What crime did I commit that you will not fill my gas tank? I’m from Hebei Baoding. Here I am at a Sinopec gas station,” he said.
“Trucks from Hebei are being denied access to refuel our tanks. This is discrimination. Do you know that?” the man said.
A man surnamed Wang, a resident of Shunyi outside Beijing, told RFA that even though the local situation is not bad, authorities appear on high alert.
“The measures are tightened in Beijing. Our community here is to shut down today. Members in the WeChat group commented that our community should not be shut down because we are in a low-risk area. Yet all but one entrances were closed off,” he said Thursday.
“People enter and exit only from one entrance. Couriers and food deliveries are not allowed at all. In my mom’s community, facial recognition is required for entry,” Wang added.
Mi Feng, a spokesperson for China’s National Health Commission, told reporters the recent outbreak featured faster transmission speeds, older patients, and more cases found in rural areas.