Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2021. 8:21 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Anticipating overflow of patients with COVID-19 ahead of celebrating the Lunar New Year, the city of Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei province, People’s Republic of China, is quickly building a quarantine facility with 3,000 beds, the Associated Press reports.
The country is also preparing to welcome a World Health Organization (WHO) team come to collect data on the origin of the pandemic in the southerly city of Wuhan, though most of them are presently in quarantine and two are in Singapore, one having twice tested positive per the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
China, which has reported nearly 88 thousand cases and just over 4,600 deaths, has managed to contain domestic spread of the virus, but authorities are taking no chances with 1,001 active cases, 26 in serious condition.
Shijiazhuang has been placed under virtual lockdown, along with the Hebei cities of Xingtai and Langfang, parts of Beijing and other cities in the northeast. That has cut off travel routes, while more than 20 million people have been told to stay home for the coming days.
China is pushing ahead with inoculations using Chinese-developed vaccines, with more than 9 million people already vaccinated and plans for 50 million to have shots by the middle of next month.
Former World Health Organization official Keiji Fukuda, who is not part of the team in Wuhan, cautioned against expectations of any breakthroughs from the visit, saying that it may take years before any firm conclusions can be made on the virus’s origin.
“China is going to want to come out avoiding blame, perhaps shifting the narrative. They want to come across as being competent and transparent,” he told The Associated Press in a video interview from Hong Kong.
For its part, WHO wants to project the image that it is “taking, exerting leadership, taking and doing things in a timely way,” he said.
Scientists suspect the virus that has killed more than 1.9 million people globally since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, possibly in southwest China.
China approved the World Health Organization visit only after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of WHO.
The delay, along with the ruling Communist Party’s tight control of information and promotion of theories the pandemic began elsewhere, added to speculation that China is seeking to prevent discoveries that chisel away at its self-proclaimed status as a leader in the battle against the virus.
In Wuhan, street life appeared little different from other Chinese cities where the virus has been largely brought under control. Senior citizens gathered to drink and dance in a riverside park Friday, and residents had praise overall for the government’s response to the crisis.
In other countries, “people go out arbitrarily, and they hang out and gather together, so it’s especially easy for them to be infected,” Xiang Nan said. “I hope they can stay home, and reduce traveling. … Don’t let the pandemic spread further anymore.”
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