A Chinese province of more than 37 million declared an “emergency state” on Wednesday to snuff out a handful of COVID-19 cases, as the country moved decisively to contain infections.
China had largely brought the coronavirus under control since its emergence in Wuhan late in 2019.
But recent weeks have seen smatterings of cases, prompting localised lockdowns, immediate travel restrictions and widespread testing of tens of millions of people.
More than 20 million are now under some form of lockdown in the country’s northern regions.
On Wednesday, the government of northeasten Heilongjiang — with a population of 37.5 million people — declared an “emergency state”, telling residents not to leave the province unless absolutely necessary, and to cancel conferences and gatherings.
That was in response to finding 28 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 12 which were asymptomatic.
Suihua city in Heilongjiang — home to more than 5.2 million — was sealed off on Monday after reporting one confirmed case and 45 asymptomatic cases.
On Wednesday authorities announced several other small cities near Suihua would also be sealed off or placed under travel restrictions.
Other cities in the province have closed entertainment venues, state media reported.
While numbers remain small compared with many other countries, China is trying to squash infections ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year festival, when hundreds of millions of people are due to travel across the country.
There are fears those highly anticipated annual journeys, often the only chance for migrant workers to see their families, will be curtailed if clusters continue.
China’s National Health Commission reported 115 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with 90 more cases in a cluster in Hebei province, which surrounds the capital Beijing.
Authorities last week launched a mass testing drive and closed transport links, schools and shops in the Hebei city of Shijiazhuang — epicentre of the latest outbreak.
Neighbouring Xingtai, home to seven million people, has also been locked down since last Friday.