Jan. 6 (UPI) — Chinese authorities are on high alert after an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Hebei Province, situated next to Beijing, which includes the city of Shijiazhuang and its some 11 million people.
The provincial health committee of Hebei said Wednesday that Shijiazhuang has confirmed 19 new COVID-19 patients, and Xingtai was reporting one new case, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Shijiazhuang plans to test all residents, according to Chinese state tabloid Global Times.
The province has declared a “state of war” against the coronavirus, and is reportedly conducting nucleic acid COVID-19 tests.
Official data also are keeping track of asymptomatic cases separately. Authorities said 41 patients are showing no symptoms of COVID-19 in Shijiazhuang, and 2 asymptomatic cases exist in Xingtai.
New outbreaks are being reported in China ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays in February. The annual event has seen hundreds of millions of Chinese leaving cities to visit families in rural areas.
But Wednesday, authorities in Shijiazhuang said all intercity buses had been suspended temporarily. Any city resident who plans to board a train or plane also is required to submit a nucleic acid test result within 72 hours.
Peking University respiratory specialist Wang Guangfa said the spread of the virus might have occurred as distancing guidelines were relaxed and the public took fewer precautions.
Some of the patients in Shijiazhuang reportedly attended weddings and funerals and took exams, raising official concerns of the virus’ spread, according to Yonhap.
China previously claimed “victory” over COVID-19 and has been promoting a new vaccine from state-owned supplier Sinopharm.
Beijing’s Ministry of Industry and Information said Tuesday that China can produce 1 billion doses of the Sinopharm vaccine in 2021, and sufficient supply would be available for mass inoculations in the country, the South China Morning Post reported.
The United Arab Emirates became one of the first countries to approve the Chinese vaccine last year, but international experts said they are skeptical, citing lack of transparency.
Chinese politicians including President Xi Jinping have not been seen taking the vaccine publicly, unlike many high-ranking U.S. officials who have taken either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to build public confidence.