China rushes to contain ‘school-centered’ delta outbreak ahead of major holiday season

The outbreak, described by state media as the “first school outbreak in China,” was originally detected on Friday at a primary school in Putian City. It has since spread throughout the county, infecting more than 100 people in three cities.

The National Health Commission (NHC) reported 59 cases in Fujian on Monday, including 24 in Putian and 32 in Xiamen, a large port city popular with tourists. On Tuesday, the two cities launched mass Covid tests for all residents.

Putian has a population of about 3 million, while Xiamen has a population of 5 million. Both cities ordered residents not to leave the city for non-essential travel. Those with legitimate reasons to leave must have tested negative for coronavirus within the past 48 hours. Long-distance buses departing from the two cities were also suspended.

On Tuesday, the city of Xiamen imposed targeted closures of residential neighborhoods affected by the outbreak, with residents prohibited from leaving their apartments or compounds. It also closed bookstores, museums, bars, cinemas and gyms, banned large gatherings and canceled events celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival, a three-day holiday that begins on Sunday.

Similar restrictions have also been imposed in Putian. The municipal government said in a press conference on Tuesday that the city had recorded a total of 85 infections, including 30 children under the age of 10.

In Xianyu, authorities have quarantined more than 3,000 direct and secondary contacts of infected cases, including large numbers of schoolchildren, some of whom were separated from their parents, according to Wu Haiduan, head of the county government.

“It is a difficult problem when the outbreak occurs among children,” Wu said. “If children can be isolated independently, we quarantine them independently. If they need their parents to accompany them, we arrange for their parents to stay in a room next to them so they can chat with each other. Of course, they can only chat next door.”

As of Tuesday, no related cases had been reported outside Fujian, but local governments across China are on high alert. The NHC estimates that about 30,000 people from Putian, the epicenter of the latest outbreak, left the province in the two weeks before Friday.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that a team of experts sent by the commission to Fujian described the outbreak as “serious and complex,” but said it was hoped to control it before the National Day holiday next month if containment measures were fully implemented.

The week-long holiday, known as “Golden Week” and begins on October 1, is one of China’s busiest travel times, with hundreds of millions of people expected to pack up highways, trains and planes.

Last year, a total of 637 million domestic flights were made during the National Day holiday, the first major holiday since China emerged from the initial coronavirus outbreak. It generated 455 billion yuan in tourism revenue – a long-awaited boost to the country’s economic recovery.
On Chinese social media, many users were left wondering if they could travel during this year’s “Golden Week”. Many people’s summer travel plans were previously hampered by an earlier outbreak in the Delta, which first appeared in the eastern Jiangsu province and swept half the country before being contained in late August.
A truck stopped at a road checkpoint in Xianyou County on September 12.  Buses and trains leaving the county have been suspended.

children injured

The latest outbreak in Fujian was first detected in pupils at a primary school in Xianyou. Since then, injuries have been found among students in many kindergartens and primary schools.

In Putian, 8 kindergarten students and 28 primary school students were infected, according to the government.

Xiamen and Putian closed schools and kindergartens and ordered them to conduct online lessons.

Experts cited by the state-run Global Times have called on the country to expand its Covid-19 vaccination program to children aged 3 to 12.

China started vaccination for adolescents aged 12 to 17 earlier this year. As of August 13, more than 60 million doses have been administered in that age group, according to the NHC.

In Putian, the government urged schools to step up efforts to give second doses of Covid vaccines to 12-14-year-olds, and complete the vaccination for 12-17-year-olds before Wednesday.

Chinese health authorities have approved two domestic vaccines – made by Sinopharm and Sinovac respectively – for emergency use for children aged 3 to 17 years.

The Fujian virus outbreak has highlighted the growing challenge of China’s ambitious strategy to eradicate COVID-19, raising questions about its long-term sustainability.

Experts advising the government have pointed to Wald’s recent return from Singapore as a possible source of the outbreak, despite being subjected to a long and harsh quarantine.

The man arrived in Xiamen, the capital of Fujian Province, on August 4, where he has been under a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine. He spent another 7 days in central quarantine in Xianyou, before returning home for another week of health monitoring, according to the Putian government.

He had tested positive for the virus nine times during his 21-day quarantine, before testing positive on Friday – 37 days after entering China, according to state media.

Chinese authorities have not revealed when, where or how the man contracted the virus, but an incubation period of more than 21 days is highly unusual.

Researchers at the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the delta variant had a median incubation period of 4 days, compared to a median of 6 days for the original strain.

Some on social media wondered if the man had caught the virus after returning to Xianyou.

CNN’s Beijing bureau and Zexu Wang contributed reporting.

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