School-based COVID outbreak in China’s Fujian grows

Cities of Putian and Xiamen began mass testing after Delta-linked outbreak surges to more than 100 people.

A resident undergoes a nucleic acid test for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Xiamen, in China's eastern Fujian province on September 14 [Stringer/AFP]

An outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19 that is thought to have begun in a primary school in Putian in China’s southeast continues to grow, prompting authorities to impose measures, including travel restrictions and school closures, to curb the spread of the virus.

Putian, a city of 3.2 million in coastal Fujian province, ordered the testing of all residents on Tuesday after cases linked to a man who returned from Singapore ballooned into a province-wide outbreak of more than 100 people.

The National Health Commission said 59 new locally transmitted cases were reported on September 13, up from 22 infections a day earlier. All of them were in Fujian.

In just four days, a total of 102 community cases have been reported in three Fujian cities, including Xiamen, which has a population of five million.

The suspected source of the outbreak is the parent of a child at the Putou Primary School. He had returned to China from Singapore in August and completed quarantine – including multiple coronavirus tests – before testing positive this month after developing COVID-19 symptoms.

The man’s 12-year-old son and a classmate were among the first patients detected in the cluster last week, shortly after the new school term began.

The variant then raced through classrooms, infecting more than 36 children, city authorities said on Tuesday, in the first big school-linked spread the country has seen since the start of the pandemic.

Mass testing is under way in parts of Fujian after a COVID-19 outbreak that is thought to have begun with the parent of a primary school pupil [Stringer/AFP]

The outbreak has sparked calls for the vaccination of children under the age of 12 and questions about the length of quarantine, currently set at 14 days, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.

The second cluster of cases is linked to a shoe factory.

The new outbreak comes ahead of China’s National Day on October 1, which heralds a week-long holiday and is one of the most popular times for people to travel.

The outbreak has spread south to Xiamen, which reported 32 new cases of community transmission for September 13 compared with just one case a day earlier. The first patient was a close contact of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in Putian, health authorities said.

Xiamen has also locked down some areas of higher virus risk, and told schools to move learning online. Public venues such as cinemas, gyms and bars have been closed and residents told not to leave the city as authorities began testing for the coronavirus.

Three new cases of community transmission were also reported in nearby Quanzhou city.

China has now been hit by multiple outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant after quashing the first wave of the coronavirus that emerged from Wuhan in late 2019.

It has taken a “zero case” approach to the virus deploying mass testing and lockdowns.

“One wave after another,” said a bank manager in Xiamen. “It feels like the new normal now.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies