BEIJING (Reuters) – New local COVID-19 infections more than doubled in China’s southeastern province of Fujian, health authorities said on Tuesday, prompting officials to quickly roll out measures including travel restrictions to halt the spread of the virus.
The National Health Commission said 59 new locally transmitted cases were reported for Sept. 13, up from 22 infections a day earlier. All of them were in Fujian, a province bordered by Zhejiang to the north and Guangdong to the south.
In just four days, a total of 102 community infections have been reported in three Fujian cities, including Xiamen, a tourist and transport hub with a population of 5 million.
The infections come ahead of the week-long National Day holiday starting on Oct. 1, a major tourist season. The last domestic outbreak in late July to August disrupted travel, hitting the tourism, hospitality and transportion sectors.
China’s air passenger traffic plunged 51.5% in August from a year earlier, data released on Tuesday showed, highlighting the vulnerability of Chinese airlines to repeated outbreaks even though COVID-19 is largely under control in the country.
Fujian’s outbreak began in Putian, a city of 3.2 million, with the first case reported on Sept. 10. Preliminary tests on samples from some Putian cases showed patients had contracted the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The outbreak has since spread south to Xiamen, which reported 32 new cases of community transmission for Sept. 13 compared with just one infection a day earlier.
“The Putian government is a big client of ours,” said a staff at a Xiamen building survey firm, declining to be named.
“About half of our company went to Putian last week. They are now isolated at home, while the rest have gone to do their Covid tests.”
Graphic: China hit by new COVID-19 cases in southeast Fujian province – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CHINA/egpbkynzbvq/chart.png
Like Putian, Xiamen has locked down some areas of higher virus risk, cut offline classes at kindergartens, primary schools and high schools, closed public venues such as cinemas, gyms and bars, and told residents not to leave the city for non-essential reasons.
The first patient in the Xiamen cluster was a close contact of a case in Putian, Xiamen authorities said late on Monday.
Known for its mild weather and a laid-back lifestyle, Xiamen is a popular tourist destination domestically.
The Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport is also a key transportation hub linking the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta. About 60% of flights to and from Xiamen were cancelled on Tuesday, according to aviation data provider Variflight.
Both Putian and Xiamen began city-wide testing for the coronavirus on Tuesday. The cities, however, are yet to announce tough city-wide lockdowns as seen in early 2020 in China.
Three new cases of community transmission were also reported in nearby Quanzhou city, versus six infections a day earlier. Variflight data showed 70% of Quanzhou’s flights were cancelled.
“One wave after another,” said a bank manager in Xiamen. “It feels like the new normal now.”
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu, Kevin Huang, Stella Qiu, Yan Shen and Liangping Gao; Editing by Stephen Coates and Michael Perry)