The National Health Commission (NHC) reported 59 cases in Fujian as of Monday, including 24 in Putian and 32 in Xiamen, a major coastal city popular with tourists. On Tuesday, the two cities launched massive Covid tests for all residents.
Putian has around 3 million inhabitants, while Xiamen has a population of 5 million. Both cities have ordered residents not to leave the city for non-essential travel. Those with legitimate reasons to leave must submit a negative coronavirus test taken within the last 48 hours. Long-distance coaches departing from the two cities have also been suspended.
On Tuesday, Xiamen imposed selective closures on residential neighborhoods affected by the outbreak, and residents were barred from leaving their apartments or complexes. It also closed libraries, museums, bars, cinemas and gyms, banned large-scale gatherings and canceled events celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, a three-day holiday that begins Sunday.
Similar restrictions have also been imposed on Putian. The city has reported a total of 85 infections, including 30 children under the age of 10, the municipal government said at a news conference Tuesday.
In Xianyou, authorities have quarantined more than 3,000 direct and secondary contacts of infected cases, including a large number of school-age children, some of whom have been separated from their parents, according to Wu Haiduan, head of government of the county.
“It is a difficult problem when outbreaks occur among children,” Wu said. “If children can be quarantined independently, we quarantine them independently. If they need parents to accompany them, we arrange for their parents to stay in a room with them so they can chat with each other. Of course. They can only chat next door. “
As of Tuesday, no related cases have been reported outside of Fujian, but China’s local governments are on high alert. The NHC estimates that some 30,000 people from Putian, the epicenter of the latest outbreak, had left the province in the two weeks before Friday.
The week-long holiday, known as “Golden Week,” which begins on October 1, is one of the busiest times to travel in China, with hundreds of millions of people expected to fill roads, trains and planes.
The latest outbreak in Fujian was first detected in students at a primary school in Xianyou. Since then, infections have been found in students at various kindergartens and elementary schools.
In Putian, 8 kindergarten students and 28 elementary school students have been infected, according to the government.
Xiamen and Putian closed schools and kindergartens and ordered them to teach classes online.
Experts cited by the state-run Global Times asked the country to expand its Covid-19 vaccination program to cover children between 3 and 12 years old.
In Putian, the government urged schools to step up efforts to administer second doses of the Covid vaccine to children ages 12 to 14, and to complete the vaccination of students ages 12 to 17 by Wednesday.
The Fujian outbreak has highlighted the growing challenge facing China’s ambitious zero-Covid strategy, raising questions about its long-term sustainability.
Experts advising the government have pointed to a father who recently returned from Singapore as the likely source of the outbreak, despite having been subjected to a long and draconian quarantine.
The man arrived in Xiamen, the Fujian provincial capital, on August 4, where he was subjected to a 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine. He spent another 7 days in centralized quarantine in Xianyou, before returning home for another week of health check, according to the Putian government.
He had tested negative for the virus nine times during a 21-day quarantine, before testing positive on Friday, 37 days after entering China, according to state media.
Chinese authorities did not reveal when, where or how the man contracted the virus, but an incubation period of more than 21 days is highly unusual.
Researchers from the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the Delta variant has an average incubation period of 4 days, compared to an average of 6 days for the original strain.
Some have questioned on social media whether the man contracted the virus after returning to Xianyou.
CNN’s Beijing Bureau and Zixu Wang contributed reporting.