CHINA is battling a fresh surge in Covid cases as it prepares for its annual Lunar New Year holiday – which helped spread the virus in first weeks of the pandemic.
The country, which has nearly 1.4 billion people, reported new clusters of the coronavirus in capital Beijing as well as Liaoning province in the north and Sichuan in the south.
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This week, 23 neighbourhoods and districts were described as being in “wartime” mode after the emergence of new Covid-19 cases.
China – where the coronavirus was first detected – managed to contain its outbreak earlier this year by shutting down cities and closing borders.
Citizens in Wuhan, the former ground zero of the pandemic, were banned from leaving their homes in an ultra-strict lockdown.
But as the country re-opened, fresh outbreaks have caused regional shutdowns, reports the Washington Post.
And while the new reported cases in the likes of Beijing are in the dozens rather than the thousands, data released this week shows that the official figures in the first weeks of the pandemic were massively downplayed.
A new study, which surveyed 34,000 people in Wuhan, shows that nearly half a million people were infected in the city – almost 10 times the official figure.
And while the lockdown in Wuhan helped stamp out the virus in the city – the Lunar New Year party only helped to spread the disease around China and the rest of the world.
According to The Lancet medical journal, five million people left Wuhan before a travel ban was imposed on January 23.
One third of those who left travelled to locations outside of Hubei province of which Wuhan is the capital.
Chinese Lunar New Year – also known as the Spring Festival – is the biggest migration of people in the world and normally involves three BILLION trips over a 40-day period.
However, the government has imposed new restrictions on movement and gatherings in the hope the holiday does not spark another outbreak of Covid.
In the north west city of Lanzhou, families have been told to speak to relatives online rather than in person.
And several cities have restricted gatherings to 10 people.
Authorities in Beijing tested more than 1.2 million people in one suburb where two new Covid cases were detected last week.
That area, known as Shunyi, was placed under “wartime” controls since Friday, it has been reported.
Locals in the capital have been urged to celebrate the holiday in the city and not to travel.
Officials in the Communist Party have to ask for permission to leave Beijing where public events have been suspended.
This comes after startling news images showed Wuhan bursting with life after apparently wiping out the disease, while many western countries are still enforcing strict lockdowns.
The pictures showed masked people crammed together at a job fair in Wuhan – not having to adhere to social distancing rules.
Other images showed shoppers at a food market – buying fresh produce including fish, eggs and vegetables.
It follows news that a Chinese journalist who bravely exposed the “cover up” of Wuhan’s deadly coronavirus outbreak was jailed for four years for “trouble making”.
Zhang Zhan, 37, was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after a brief hearing in Shanghai, according to her legal team.
The Pudong New Area Peoples Court claimed she spread false information, gave interviews to foreign media, disrupted public order and maliciously manipulated the pandemic.
Authorities in China have been accused of covering up blunders made at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and of stifling independent journalism.
There has also been scepticism about the official death toll, given by the authorities as 4,634 from 83,418 cases, which is considerably lower than many less populated countries with better developed healthcare systems.
Damning leaked files allegedly revealed China “lied to the world” about coronavirus cases and hid its true infection rate to “protect” its image.
The explosive secret data, from China’s own health chiefs, appeared to expose a catalogue of cover-ups and blunders which hid the true scale of the killer disease.
CNN said it had investigated the treasure trove of information, contained in a 117-page report marked “internal document, please keep confidential”.
The leaked files exposed China’s botched coronavirus response, including how Beijing downplayed data, taking weeks to diagnose new cases.
Experts said the country may have attempted to suppress information to “protect its image” worldwide.
Meanwhile, China recently sparked fury after its state media mocked the UK as the “sick man of Euope” over the new mutant Covid strain.
The Communist regime blamed Britain over the new variant despite their own failures being suspected to have led to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million worldwide.