This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Authorities in Shanghai have confirmed at least six new cases of COVID-19, imposing a localized lockdown on a residential compound in downtown Huangpu district, local health officials and residents said on Friday.
Municipal health authorities are currently tracking close contacts of the confirmed cases, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported, adding that more than 15,000 people “might have come into contact with them or had overlapping travel histories.”
Of those, 74 people have tested negative for COVID-19, it said, while three cases imported from overseas were also reported.
The Zhaotong residential compound in Huangpu district has been placed under lockdown by health officials, with nobody allowed in or out and all nearby shops closed, according to video posted to social media from the scene on Friday.
Residents are currently being tested, and will be sent to hotels for self-isolation if found to have COVID-19, according to a Shanghai resident surnamed Cheng.
“[Some] residents are now staying in hotels under quarantine, under restriction,” Cheng said. “There is no outbreak in the district where I live … but you have to wear a mask in Shanghai now when you go to supermarkets, and to residential communities.”
“They [also] take your body temperature when you go to buy groceries,” she said.
Outbreak in northern China
The Shanghai outbreak comes amid a new wave of COVID-19 cases in northern China, with 47 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang on Thursday, 35 of which were in Wangkui county.
The health authorities also reported 88 asymptomatic cases across the province, with 19 COVID-19 cases reported in neighboring Jilin province, seven of which were asymptomatic.
The northern province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, reported 18 new cases, three of which were asymptomatic.
Authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin are particularly worried that the Hebei cases will spread to the densely populated city, and have shut down transportation routes coming into the city.
A Tianjin resident surnamed Tang said no cases had yet been reported in the city.
“There are definitely no cases [reported] in Tianjin, but there were two cases in Daxing district of Beijing reported yesterday,” she said.
“Wangkui county in Heilongjiang has a high infection rate, too.”
Emergency orders limit travel
The resurgence of the pandemic in China led the country’s cabinet, the State Council, to issue emergency orders requiring anyone traveling home ahead of Lunar New Year on Feb. 12 to show a negative COVID-19 test taken in the past seven days, and submit to a 14-day quarantine period on arrival.
A Beijing resident surnamed Wang said this effectively scuppers many people’s plans to return home, as is traditional for the Lunar New Year celebrations.
“This way, nobody can go home for the New Year,” Wang said. “Even if you go, you will have to be inside in isolation for 14 days for a seven-day holiday; they won’t let you out of the door.”
In contrast with last year’s emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in the 11-million strong city of Wuhan, much of the outbreak this year has hit rural counties harder, official media reported.
State broadcaster China Radio International (CRI) reported on its website recently that more than 20,000 villagers had been evacuated from 12 villages near Hebei’s provincial capital, Shijiazhuang.
If the authorities merely cut off the villages from the outside world, the virus would still spread between households, eventually spreading to everyone in those communities, it quoted health expert Tong Zhaohui as saying.