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A cluster of Covid-19 cases in China’s Rust Belt region has intensified worry over a second wave of coronavirus infections. The central and local leadership have instituted strict measures, including halting public transport services for more than 100 million people and sealing off residential compounds in some cities, as Chinese President Xi Jinping called for strengthened controls. While many other countries are still grappling with the first wave of outbreak, this re-emergence in China, while still small, is putting the world on alert.
1. How did the new cluster erupt?
The first case was reported May 7 in the northeastern province of Jilin, on the border with Russia and North Korea, and as of May 21 had spread to at least 46 people, all linked with each other. Officials have yet to identify “patient zero,” but suspects include a woman who works in the laundry at a police station in the city of Shulan, and may have been in contact with one or more people from Russia, which is behind only the U.S. in number of confirmed cases. One of China’s top doctors said patients in Jilin appeared to be asymptomatic for a longer period than was usual in Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged last year, but didn’t elaborate on what those findings were based on. He told state television the cases in the first two weeks seem to show damage mostly in the lungs, with only 10% developing into critical cases.
2. What’s the response been?
The northeast cluster is tiny compared to the earlier outbreak in central Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. (More than 68,000 people were infected there; its 11-week lockdown ended April 8.) Yet Beijing is taking the outbreak just as seriously. Jilin city is already setting up an emergency response that could turn two stadiums into hospitals in 24 hours. The Chinese government is eager to show stability as its annual political meeting is set to convene this week, with top leaders gathering to assess economic growth in the wake of the pandemic.
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