City of Nanjing isolated as China fights worst Covid outbreak in months

Health authorities in China have set up checkpoints and reportedly suspended flights in the eastern city of Nanjing in the country’s worst coronavirus emergency in months.

More than 170 people have been diagnosed with the Delta variant in the past 10 days. The main outbreak is centred on Nanjing, in Jiangsu province, but connected cases have reportedly been identified in Beijing and other provinces including Anhui, Liaoning, Sichuan and Guangdong.

The Global Times reported Nanjing airport was suspending all flights until mid-August, citing an anonymous source. Sichuan province has ordered all new arrivals to undergo 14 days of quarantine in facilities and another seven at home.

Nanjing authorities this week embarked on a second round of mass testing for its 9.3 million population. Entry and exit restrictions on residents have been strengthened, some public transport has been suspended, and taxi and rideshare drivers have been instructed not to leave the city limits.

Other cities in Jiangsu have reinforced anti-virus measures, including 18 checkpoints on highways entering Suzhou, to check the health code status of people travelling from Nanjing. Suzhou authorities have also suspended road passenger transport between the city and Nanjing.

The Nanjing cluster is at least the third outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in China, after one near the Myanmar border in Yunnan earlier this month, and another in souther Guangdong in May-June.

Nine cases were first detected on 20 July, all among airport staff in Nanjing. Another 24 local cases on Wednesday brought the total number believed connected to the cluster to 171.

Among the recently confirmed cases are people who joined a crowd of 2,000 at a show in Zhangjiajie, Hunan on 22 July. All attendees, who are now spread across China, have been designated “high risk”. People who have since been diagnosed in Dalian and Chengdu reportedly attended the show, with some having travelled there through Nanjing’s Lukou international airport.

Much of the focus is on the airport, where cleaners – who were cleaning planes that had arrived from overseas and domestic flights – contracted the virus and passed it on to colleagues and family.

The central commission for discipline inspection has publicly criticised the airport management, accusing it of negligence. In a statement on Thursday, the most senior enforcement body of the Chinese Communist party said the airport lacked supervision and had unprofessional management, and that epidemic prevention and control measures had not been properly implemented. It was highly critical of management for not separating staff and operations for international and domestic flights, and called for “deep reflection and rectification”.

China has largely controlled the virus’s spread since it first emerged in Wuhan and prompted a lengthy lockdown. Most of the relatively frequent new outbreaks are met with localised lockdown measures, mass testing and tracing, and a nationwide vaccination program using its domestically produced vaccines.