China says latest COVID-19 outbreak caused by imported cases

By Brenda Goh and Steven Bian
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's recent COVID-19 outbreaks in the northeast have been traced back to travelers entering the country or contaminated frozen food imports, the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Saturday.
NHC Minister Ma Xiaowei spoke at a government meeting where he also said the virus is spreading in rural areas and that dealing with the recent situation has shown how prevention and control measures have been relaxed.
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"As of December 2020, epidemic clusters have emerged in Beijing, Sichuan, Liaoning, Hebei and Heilongjiang," said a statement on the NHC's website, citing Ma's briefing.
"They mainly have the following characteristics. First, they are all imported from abroad, caused by overseas travelers or contaminated imported cold chain items."
The total number of cases is still well below what China saw at the height of the outbreak in early 2020, but concerns about a new wave are growing with the New Year celebrations in a month's time.
This increase is due to the fact that a team of researchers led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is in quarantine in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first discovered in late 2019. The team wants to investigate the causes of the pandemic, which has now killed nearly 2 million people worldwide.
China is the only country claiming COVID-19 could be transmitted via cold chain imports, despite the WHO downplaying the risks and reporting on state media that the virus existed overseas before it was discovered in downtown Wuhan late last year.
The country saw daily cases spike to a high of over 10 months over the past week, reporting 130 new coronavirus cases in the mainland on Jan. 15, up from 144 cases the day before.
Of those cases, 115 were local infections, 90 of which occurred in Hebei province near Beijing, which was hit hardest in the last wave.
Another 23 cases were found in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, while two cases were reported in Beijing. The agency also reported that 79 new asymptomatic patients were found on Jan. 15 who were not classified as confirmed cases, compared with 66 the day before.
As a result, around 28 million people have been banned so far, and Ma said the recent outbreak had spread quickly due to activities such as wedding banquets or large group gatherings and it was difficult to control as community transmission had already happened by then Cases have been discovered.
However, Xinhua warned on Saturday that government officials should not "cry wolf" and be too quick to explain that they are going into "war mode." This could lead to unnecessary panic and affect normal production.
The total confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 88,118 while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,635.
(Adaptation by Cynthia Osterman and Jacqueline Wong)
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