BEIJING (Reuters) -China ended the final week of 2021 with its biggest tally of local COVID-19 cases for any seven-day period since it contained the country’s first epidemic nearly two years ago.
The National Health Commission reported on Saturday 175 new community infections with confirmed clinical symptoms for Dec. 31, bringing the total number of local symptomatic cases in mainland China in the past week to 1,151, driven mostly by an outbreak in the northwestern industrial and tech hub of Xian.
China has maintained some of the toughest COVID-19 measures in the world even as cases fell sharply earlier this year.
The deepening outbreak in Xian, a city of 13 million, will likely firm the resolve of authorities to accelerate their efforts to curb virus transmission when cases emerge. The city has reported 1,451 local cases since Dec. 9, the highest tally for any Chinese city in 2021.
Xian has been under lockdown for 10 days as of Saturday.
Forestalling major outbreaks in 2022 is important in a year when Beijing will host the Winter Olympic Games and a once-every-five-years Communist Party Congress, where President Xi Jinping will likely secure a third term as party secretary.
The emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which is already spurring many nations to backtrack or suspend reopening plans, will also drive Beijing to stick to its high vigilance against the virus. China has reported a handful of imported Omicron cases and at least one locally transmitted case.
Since August, China has aimed to get any outbreak under control within about two weeks, much shorter than the four to six weeks in earlier battles against sporadic flare-ups that occurred after the initial nationwide epidemic, according to the National Health Commission.
The province of Yunnan, which shares an international border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, reported new local symptomatic cases on 92 out of 365 days last year, or 25% of the time, more often than any other province, autonomous region or municipality.
Shaanxi province, whose capital is Xian, reported new local symptomatic cases on 30 days.
The Xian outbreak is yet to see a significant decline in cases. Officials said the virus had spread quietly in the city before strict curbs were imposed.
The outbreak, which also led to cases in other cities including Beijing, could be traced back to a flight arriving from Pakistan, but it is unclear how it then spread to local communities.
Many people have been forbidden from leaving their residential compounds, but a city government official said on Friday curbs would be loosened in less risky compounds when the time was right.
Postgraduate student Li Jiaxin, 23, said nobody can leave the campus of her university. She spent New Year’s Eve with her three room mates and was unable to meet with her boyfriend and family.
“I may be what you would consider a person with a strong sense of ritual, so I still feel a little sad that we are not together at this time,” she said.