China's new virus outbreak needs further testing after 'hypothesis' on cause

China's new virus outbreak needs further testing after 'hypothesis' on cause”

Authorities in Beijing have further expanded coronavirus restrictions, closing sports and entertainment sites across the city and curtailing travel as dozens more cases linked to an outbreak at a food market emerged.

Overnight, some parts of Beijing including the city's old-style hutong neighbourhoods were walled up, with entry and exit restricted to a few round-the-clock security checkpoints.

For over two months, the United States president has been pressing China to agree for an inquiry into the origin of the virus, including the allegation that it emerged from a bio-lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The outbreak has also spread beyond Beijing, with the nearby provinces of Liaoning and Hubei reporting a total of eight coronavirus cases linked to the capital clusters.

That makes it the most serious flare-up in China since February, stoking fears of a second-wave of the respiratory disease which emerged in the central city of Wuhan late previous year and has now infected more than 8 million people worldwide.

Some 30 residential areas near those markets have been quarantined for 14 days, confining thousands of residents.

"We need to strengthen the bottom line thinking and make an all-out fight, taking epidemic prevention and control as the most important and urgent task at present... and taking the most determined, decisive and strict measures to contain the epidemic", the daily quoted a local high official in Beijing as saying.

Outbound taxi and car-hailing services have also been suspended.

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Municipal authorities also banned high-risk groups, such as close contacts of confirmed cases, from leaving the city, officials said Monday. Globally, more than 8 million cases have been recorded, and 436,000 deaths.

The US, Brazil and Russian Federation are now the hardest-hit in the world.

Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told state media he believed the new Beijing outbreak to be of a more contagious strain than the one that hit Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic.

Of the domestically transmitted cases, 27 were reported in Beijing, four in Hebei Province, and one in Sichuan Province, the National Health Commission said in its daily report.

"A cluster like this is a concern and it needs to be investigated and controlled - and that is exactly what the Chinese authorities are doing", World Health Organization emergencies director Mike Ryan said.

While the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon at Xinfadi, "it does not clearly or definitely indicate it's from imported seafood", Wu Zunyou, the body's chief epidemiologist, said in a CCTV interview. "But it needs to be explored", Ryan said in a briefing.

Chinese officials and state media were quick to defend the country amid fears that the outbreak marked a possible second wave.

"As we've seen in many countries, the emergence of new clusters - especially when the origin of the cluster, the driver of the cluster, is not recognised - is always a concern", he said. Beijing sacked two officials in Fengtai district - Zhou Yuqing, deputy head of the Fengtai district government, and Wang Hua, Party secretary of Huaxiang Township in Fengtai - for misconduct in office during epidemic prevention and control. Previous sackings of officials over outbreaks, including at a residential complex in Wuhan, have prompted concern that it could encourage coverups of outbreaks.

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