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China Restricts Travel for Lunar New Year to Control COVID-19 Spread


A woman carries a child wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus as they walk across an intersection in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
China Restricts Travel for Lunar New Year to Control COVID-19 Spread
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Chinese officials urged people to avoid traveling home for the Lunar New Year observance to prevent spreading the coronavirus in rural areas.

China reported its biggest one-day jump in COVID cases in more than five months on Wednesday. Efforts to contain the new wave of infections include a lockdown of four cities. Most of the new cases were reported near the capital, Beijing; but an area in the far northeast also reported a rise in infections. More than 28 million people are under home quarantine.

Heilongjiang province on Wednesday declared a COVID-19 emergency. The city of Suihua, next to the provincial capital, Harbin, put its 5.2 million people under lockdown. Tieli, a city of about 300,000 that borders Suihua, said on Wednesday it would ban people and vehicles from leaving for three days as part of new COVID-19 prevention measures.

Officials said Wednesday that local health centers and hospitals in villages need to watch carefully for any new COVID-19 cases.

A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus wheels a suitcase across a pedestrian bridge in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.
A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus wheels a suitcase across a pedestrian bridge in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Stay in place for Lunar New Year

The government is preparing for the world's largest yearly movement of people. Hundreds of millions of Chinese usually travel home for Lunar New Year break in February. Many of those traveling are workers in cities who go back to their home villages. Officials in some places have asked those workers to stay where they are.

Wang Bin is an official with the National Health Commission. Wang told a news conference: "In the period leading up to Lunar New Year, we urge the public that those who do not need to travel, should not travel.’” Wang added that those who must travel should do it at times that are not very busy, wear face coverings, and “avoid crowded places with lots of people."

Wang Bin, spokesperson for Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention, National Health Commission of China
Wang Bin, spokesperson for Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention, National Health Commission of China

In Hebei province, the city of Shijiazhuang has most of the recent virus cases. On Wednesday, the health commission in Hebei announced another 90 confirmed cases. Shijiazhuang ordered its roughly 10 million people to take a second round of tests for the virus. The officials want to isolate the sources of infection, some of which may be coming from wedding gatherings. Testing rates are at 12.55 million people each day, or 10 times the level last March.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China is about 87,706. The official death toll is at least 4,634.

The Hebei outbreak worries officials because the province is close to Beijing. Travel to and from three cities is not permitted. The cities are: Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Langfang. People living in some communities have to stay home for the next week.

Feng Zijian is deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He told reporters that a "massive" increase in infections is unlikely during the holiday if people obey control and prevention measures.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk outside of an office complex in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.
People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk outside of an office complex in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Vaccines for 10 million

On December 15, China started a vaccination campaign for some groups. Officials said Wednesday that health workers have given over 10 million doses of one of the COVID-19 vaccines produced in China. Currently, China has only approved one vaccine for people age 18 to 59. It is from state-owned Sinopharm.

China has also approved three vaccines for emergency use, including two from Sinopharm and one from Sinovac, a private company.

WHO investigation

World Health Organization, or WHO, experts arrived in China last week to begin studying the origins of the pandemic. Chinese officials said they would work "closely" with the WHO in their research. The WHO head criticized the Chinese government for slow approval of the necessary permissions for their investigation. The team will have to spend 14 days in quarantine.

China has strongly controlled all research into the origins of the coronavirus. State media has promoted theories that someone brought the virus to China from outside.

A health expert with the WHO said earlier that they did not expect that the team would reach a final opinion from its trip.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

See The Language of the Health Crisis for details on the words in this and similar stories.

lockdownn. ​a state of isolation or restricted access put in place as a security measure

province – n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into

isolation - n. ​the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others

originn. the point or place where something begins or is created or the source or cause of something

pandemic - n. ​an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world​

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