China tests entire city in Xinjiang for new coronavirus cluster

Chinese authorities are again conducting mass coronavirus tests across an entire city after a large number of asymptomatic cases were detected in the northwestern city of Kashgar.

Important points:

  • China is concerned about community transmission in Kashgar after 137 asymptomatic cases were found
  • It is the highest number of asymptomatic infections in China since early April
  • The new outbreak follows a strict lockdown in Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, which sparked a backlash

Health officials discovered at least 137 asymptomatic cases related to a clothing factory in Kashgar, located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Authorities want to test all 4.7 million residents of the Kashgar metropolitan area by Tuesday after the first infection of a 17-year-old female factory worker was found on Saturday.

It was not clear how the teenager was infected, although the official Xinhua News Agency said all new cases have been linked to another clothing factory where the patient’s parents work.

The parents had not tested positive for the virus.

During rush hour, commuters wear masks on a bus in the Chinese capital Beijing.(AP: Andy Wong)

Thousands of health workers have been used to test lightning

The teenager’s infection was discovered during routine weekly tests in Xinjiang.

Xinhua said around 14,000 medical workers from outside Kashgar were mobilized to help with the tests and test an additional 610,000 people a day.

Kashgar schools and kindergartens have been closed, communities are on lockdown, and contact tracing is ongoing.

Kashgar police also posted a notice on their social media account urging locals “not to believe rumors and not to spread rumors”.

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Residents of Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, who were under strict lockdown in August, call from their homes.

“Now the speed of local testing is very fast,” Wang Ying, a Shanghai-based immunologist, told the state-run Global Times newspaper.

“However, as asymptomatic infections are still contagious and local patient zero was not found, the risk of community cluster infection is very high.”

The new outbreak comes after authorities contained an outbreak in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, with a strict 40-day lockdown, including draconian measures such as physically locking people inside their homes.

Many Urumqi residents used social media to complain about lockdown regulations. This was a rare expression of public disagreement with the ruling Communist Party.

In the semi-autonomous province in the far north-west of the country lives the persecuted Uighur ethnic minority – a Turkish-speaking Muslim minority – who seem to have been subjected to the world’s largest religious imprisonment since the Holocaust.

In recent years, numerous Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been forcibly arrested and sent to detention centers, while government authorities closely monitor physical activity and online activities of the Uyghurs.

In June, an Associated Press investigation reported that Uighur women had been forced to have abortions and were forcibly sterilized.

Imams and government officials pass under surveillance cameras at a mosque in Kashgar, China.

Imams and government officials pass under surveillance cameras at a mosque in Kashgar, China.

Imams and government officials pass under surveillance cameras as they exit a mosque in Kashgar.(Reuters: Ben Blanchard)

The authorities remain vigilant to prevent another wave

A total of 20 new confirmed and 161 new asymptomatic cases were reported in mainland China on Sunday, the National Health Commission said in a statement.

The number of new asymptomatic infections was the highest since daily reporting of these cases in China began on April 1.

By Sunday afternoon, more than 2.84 million people had been tested in the Kashgar area.

The scope and speed of the testing is in line with efforts to eradicate other recent clusters of infections in China, including one in Qingdao this month.

Although the number of new cases in mainland China has fallen sharply from the February highs, the government is concerned about another wave of infections and maintains mass and rapid testing capabilities.

The virus emerged in downtown Wuhan late last year.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stands at 85,810 while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,634.

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