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China sees highest jump in local Covid-19 cases in more than 5 months

Hebei province records 51 cases, residents in capital barred from leaving the city

BEIJING: Shijiazhuang, the capital of China's Hebei province, has banned all residents from leaving the city as part of coronavirus-related curbs, a city official said yesterday.

China yesterday reported 52 locally transmitted cases, the highest in more than five months, of which 51 were from Hebei province.

Transport services were cut off to the city of 11 million people near Beijing as local officials were reprimanded for a Covid-19 outbreak.

The recent outbreak in northern Hebei province has seen cases spike and prompted mass testing, school closures and suspension of travel links to the province.

The vast majority of flights to the city of Shijiazhuang were cancelled by yesterday afternoon, according to real-time flight tracker VariFlight, and trains were suspended from leaving Shijiazhuang station.

Major highways leading into Shijiazhuang, around 300km south of Beijing, have been closed and inter-city bus travel halted.

The state media tabloid Global Times reported that the city was in "de facto lockdown" due to the large-scale suspension of transport services.

Three officials from Shijiazhuang's Gaocheng district - the epicentre of the latest outbreak - were reprimanded for their handling of the outbreak, the local disciplinary commission said yesterday. The officials had allowed a woman who had tested positive to leave the area, the commission claimed.

Meanwhile, Japan declared a limited state of emergency in Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures yesterday to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The government said the one-month emergency would run from today to Feb 7 in Tokyo and Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures, covering about 30 per cent of the country's population.

The curbs would combat transmission in bars and restaurants, which the government says are main risk areas.

The restrictions are narrower in scope than those imposed in April under an emergency that ran to late May. The curbs then were nationwide and schools and non-essential businesses were shuttered. This time, schools are not being closed.

"The global pandemic has been a tougher one than we expected, but I'm hopeful we can overcome this," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. "For this to happen, I must ask citizens to endure life with some restrictions."

Some medical experts have said they fear the government's plan for limited restrictions might not be enough.

"We may need to think about a state of emergency nationwide," president of the Japan Medical Association Toshio Nakagawa said.

Mr Suga said damage to the economy was inevitable, but he would aim to protect jobs and businesses with a 70 trillion yen (S$900 billion) stimulus package being rolled out.

Japan recorded more than 7,000 cases for the first time yesterday. Tokyo's tally hit 2,447, from a record of 1,591 the previous day. In all, Japan has seen 267,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths. - REUTERS, AFP

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