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China to impose virus testing on Lunar New Year travelers

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Local businesses manage the inventory inside the Yiwu Trade Market at Haigang District of Qianghangdao City, north China’s Hebei Province, Dec. 18, 2020. The year 2021 in Chinese Zodiac year is the year of Ox. — REUTERS

SHANGHAI/BEIJING — China plans to impose strict COVID testing requirements during the Lunar New Year holiday season, when tens of millions of people are expected to travel, as it battles the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.

Millions of residents in Hebei province surrounding Beijing, the northeastern Jilin province and Heilongjiang have been put into lockdown in recent weeks amid what is the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.

Authorities are asking people to stay home during the Lunar New Year holidays in February as part of the efforts to prevent another debilitating outbreak.

A total of 144 new cases were reported on Jan. 20, the National Health Commission said on Thursday, matching the total reported on Jan. 14 and marking the highest number of daily infections since March 1. This still remains a fraction of what China saw during the height of the outbreak in January-February 2020, however.

Of the 126 new local infections, Heilongjiang accounted for 68 while Jilin reported 33. Hebei, which had so far seen the biggest spike in cases this month, reported 20 new cases, and Beijing reported two cases.

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The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed infections, rose to 113 from 58 a day earlier.

In a notice posted online, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said people returning to rural areas from other provinces over the Lunar New Year period would have to produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within seven days.

A majority of China’s 280 million rural migrant workers usually travel home to their villages at this time of year.

Those that work with imported cold chain products, or quarantine facility workers, among other groups, would also have to produce a test, even if they remained in the same province, said the notice.

Rural areas’ epidemic control, as well as infections spread via imported frozen goods, have been blamed by officials as weak links partially responsible for the current outbreaks.

An announcement from an NHC official during a Wednesday news conference had suggested everyone returning home would have to take a test. Official media Xinhua then published an article urging officials to clarify details “as soon as possible.”

The total number of confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in mainland China now stands at 88,701, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.  Reuters

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