China Faces Threat Of Another National Wave As COVID-19 "Super-Spreader" Infects 102 People

A travelling salesman in China has been linked to 102 COVID-19 infections after giving public lectures while carrying the virus without showing symptoms. 

The man, who has been dubbed a 'super-spreader', had held the talks at health salons popular with elderly citizens before the cluster infections erupted in the north-eastern province of Jilin, state media reported.

China reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases for the sixth consecutive day on Monday. Rising infections in the northeast are fuelling concern of another wave when hundreds of millions of people travel for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Tough new control in Gongzhuling, a city of around 1million residents in Jilin Province in the northeast, brings the total number of people under lockdown to more than 29million.

According to the Global Times newspaper, at least 11 regions in the provinces of Hebei, Heilongjiang and Jilin have imposed lockdown measures and introduced extensive testing programmes to combat fresh outbreaks.

Most Jilin cases have been traced back to an individual known by his surname Lin.

Officials said that Mr Lin, born in 1976, had travelled to and from neighbouring Heilongjiang Province, the site of a previous cluster of infections.

Mr Lin was recorded as one of the seven asymptomatic cases - people infected with the virus but not yet showing symptoms - by the Jilin Provincial Health Commission on January 13. 

According to Xinhua, Mr Lin had held lectures in two health parlours in Gongzhuling and Tonghua before the cluster infections emerged in the two cities, as well as a third Jilin city called Songyuan.

The majority of the infected people did not display symptoms, and many of them were senior citizens over the age of 60, said Xinhua, which dubbed Mr Lin's health lectures 'super-spreading events'.

Super-spreading is known to occur in care homes, hospitals and religious places - but the scientists say other unusual events can lead to clusters of cases.

China's National Health Commission reported 109 new COVID-19 cases for Sunday, unchanged from the day earlier. Of the 93 local infections, 54 were in Hebei, which surrounds Beijing.

Hebei authorities vowed to punish lockdown violations, including the illegal staging of weddings or funerals, the Xinhua news agency said.

Jilin province also reported a record 30 new cases, underscoring the risk of new clusters emerging.

China has two domestically produced COVID-19 vaccines and more in trials. Its vaccination programme started in July for emergency use and more than 10million doses have been given.

Daily increases in infections remain a fraction of what China saw at the height of the outbreak in early 2020, but officials are concerned infections could spread rapidly during the Lunar New Year holiday in less than a month.

Despite travel restrictions, the China Railway Corporation expects about 296million passenger trips during the Lunar New Year break, compared with 410million in 2019.

Shanghai is one of many cities providing financial incentives for migrant workers not to travel home.

The manufacturing hub of Yiwu on the east coast is also introducing subsidies, including rent reductions, to encourage workers to stay put during the holiday. Tianjin, home to 15million people, said employees would get a one-off payment of 300 yuan (£34) if they stay in the city.

Cainiao, the delivery arm of Alibaba, also said it would provide more than 200million yuan in subsidies to ensure that 'people move less, goods move more' during the holiday.

Statistics bureau chief Ning Jizhe said the overall economic impact of the COVID-19 resurgence remained controllable.

But though Xinhua warned local governments not to 'cry wolf', many have been introducing new curbs.

Beijing, which reported two new local infections, now requires travellers from abroad to undergo health monitoring for seven additional days following 21 days of medical observation.

The city of Gongzhuling said it was 'strictly forbidden' for anyone to go out unless they are scheduled for a COVID-19 test at a designated site.

Xinhua said the new clusters were caused by social activities in rural areas and a lack of awareness at the grassroots level, creating 'hotbeds' for rapid spread.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China is 89,336, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.

The data excludes cases from Macau and Hong Kong, which are Chinese cities but report new cases independently, and self-ruled Taiwan which China claims as its own.

World Health Organization (WHO) representatives said on Friday that its investigation team in China had begun discussions with counterparts there via video conference as they remained in quarantine.

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