The city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus pandemic in China, has reported its first cluster of infections since a lockdown there was lifted a month ago, stoking concerns of a wider resurgence of the disease.
The new infections sounded a note of caution amid efforts to ease coronavirus-related restrictions across China as businesses restart and individuals return to work.
Wuhan reported five new confirmed cases on Monday, all from the same residential compound. One was the wife of an 89-year-old patient reported a day earlier in the first confirmed case in the central city in more than a month.
“At present, the task of epidemic prevention and control in the city is still very heavy,” the Wuhan health authority said in a statement.
“We must resolutely contain the risk of a rebound.”
All of the latest cases were previously classified as asymptomatic, people who test positive for the virus and are capable of infecting others but do not show clinical signs such as a fever.
The number of asymptomatic cases in China is not known, as they only appear on the radar of health officials when they show up positive during tests conducted as part of contact tracing and health checks.
China does not include asymptomatic cases in its overall tally of confirmed cases, now at 82,918, until they exhibit signs of infection. Mainland China has reported 4,633 deaths.
Hundreds of asymptomatic cases in Wuhan, where a months-long lockdown ended on April 8, are being monitored.
The numbers of new cases reported in China since April have been small compared with the thousands confirmed every day in February, thanks to a nationwide regime of screening, testing and quarantine.
Mi Feng, a spokesman at the National Health Commission, said new infections in seven provinces were being traced.
“In the past 14 days, seven provinces have reported new locally transmitted cases, with cases involving clusters continuing to increase,” Mi told a media briefing.
“We need to investigate and determine the origin of the infections and transmission routes.”
The northeastern province of Jilin, which on Saturday reported a cluster of infections in one of its cities, Shulan, reported three additional cases.
Shulan has been marked a high-risk area, the only place in China currently with that designation.
“We’re now in a ‘war-time’ mode,” said Jin Hua, the mayor of Shulan, which until the weekend had reported no local cases for more than 70 days.
Shulan has imposed a lockdown on its 600,000 residents since the weekend, with just one member of a household being allowed out each day to buy necessities.
Reopening in China
The confirmation of new infections in Wuhan comes after the government announced on Friday that cinemas, museums and other venues would gradually be reopened – though restrictions including mandatory reservations and a limit on numbers of visitors would be in place.
The financial hub of Shanghai has reopened some nightspots and Walt Disney Co reopened its Shanghai Disneyland park on Monday to a reduced number of visitors.
“Right now here in China and the COVID epidemic conditions are such that we feel with the right measures in place, as far as health and safety goes, that we are able to open successfully here,” Andrew Bolstein, of Shanghai Disney, told Al Jazeera.
“Temperature checks and social distancing are also in place – that means no selfies with Mickey or Minnie Mouse for now,” said Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing.
The total number of people at the theme park on Monday was capped at about 24,000, roughly 30 percent of the park’s capacity, with tickets selling out in minutes, Yu said.
“I feel happy I finally have a place to take my child,” one visitor told Al Jazeera.
However, Yu said analysts have cautioned that despite pent-up consumer demand, one should not expect China’s economy “to bounce back anytime soon”.
“I think the overall outlook is going to remain very uncertain, and subdues, as long we do not have a treatment or vaccine for the coronavirus,” Imogen Paige-Jarret of The Economist Intelligence Unit told Al Jazeera.