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China’s virus cases increase when WHO researchers visit



BEIJING (AP) – China sees a new rise in coronavirus cases in its frozen northeast as a World Health Organization the team arrived to investigate the origin of the pandemic.

China on Thursday also reported its first new death attributed to COVID-19 in months, raising the toll to 4,635 among 87,844 cases. China’s relatively low numbers are a testament to the effectiveness of strict containment, tracking and quarantine measures, but have also raised questions about the tight hold the government has on all information related to the outbreak.

The National Health Commission said Heilongjiang province in the region traditionally known as Manchuria registered 43 new cases, most of which were centered around the city of Suihua outside the provincial capital Harbin. The northern province of Hebei just outside Beijing, which has seen China̵

7;s most serious outbreak recently, registered a further 81 cases, marking the second straight day China’s total number of local infections has risen to triple digits. A further 14 cases were brought outside the country.

China has put more than 20 million people in varying degrees of lockdown in Hebei, Beijing and other areas in hopes of getting infections ahead of next month’s New Year holidays. The government has cut travel links to and from several cities, urging people to be put on holiday, postponing important political gatherings and plans to leave schools a week early to reduce the risk of infection.

Also on Thursday, a 10-member WHO team arrived in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered in late 2019. The visit was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic strife that led to an unusual public complaint from the head of the WHO.

State broadcaster CGTN said the team will be quarantined for two weeks and will be tested for the virus.

Researchers suspect that the virus, which has killed 1.9 million people since the end of 2019, spread to humans from bats or other animals, likely in southwestern China.

The WHO team includes viruses and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

– Indonesia began vaccinating health care workers and officials with the COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech. The Ministry of Health plans to vaccinate more than 1.3 million health workers and 17.4 million public officials in the first phase of the vaccination program, which is ultimately intended to cover two-thirds of its population or 180 million of its 270 million people. The first 25 health workers to get a jab on Thursday were employees at Jakarta’s Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital. The introduction comes as Indonesia recorded a daily high of COVID-19 infections and deaths on Wednesday with 11,278 cases and 306 deaths in the last 24 hours. The country has confirmed 858,000 infections and 24,900 deaths since the pandemic began.

Japan’s expanded state of emergency came into force on Thursday as the government tries to stop a wave of new coronavirus infections, but with the non-binding restrictions, many people seemed to ignore requests to avoid non-essential travel. People were still commuting on crowded trains and buses in Osaka, Fukuoka and other areas of the seven new prefectures placed under state of emergency. In Tokyo, where the emergency decree has already existed for a week, the governor expressed concern that people were not following the official guidelines. Gov. Yuriko Koike said the state of emergency is not just about avoiding eating out at night or for restaurants to close early, but reducing contacts between people. Experts say people are not responsive to emergency measures due to growing complacency. Japan has seen coronavirus infections and deaths roughly doubled over the past month to approx. 302,000 and 4,200.


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