China has shut down schools, put in place travel restrictions, and ordered nucleic acid tests for millions in the eastern province of Fujian as the caseload of new Covid-19 infections more than doubled to 139 until Tuesday evening.

Termed as the first “school-centred” outbreak in China, nearly three dozen children have been infected in the sudden surge of infections, first detected in a school during random nucleic acid testing last week.

The fresh cases have so far been concentrated in three cities, Putian, Quanzhou and provincial capital, Xiamen, though reports say contacts of those infected have travelled to neighbouring provinces.

Around 20 cases involving children below 12 years old have been reported, state-run tabloid, Global Times reported.

Xiamen, a port city and popular tourist destination, started a citywide nucleic acid testing for its 5 million citizens, health authorities announced on Tuesday.

Colleges, primary and high schools, and vocational schools will have to move their courses online, while kindergartens have been told to suspend operations, the Xinhua news agency said in a report.

Xiamen residents have been advised not to leave the city unless necessary, and those who want to leave must present a green health code and provide a negative nucleic acid test result within 48 hours before departure.

To curb the spread of the virus, Fujian expressway authorities have enforced traffic control at dozens of expressway toll gates across the province, the Xinhua report said.

A citywide nucleic acid testing started on Tuesday afternoon in Putian city.

As of Monday, 85 people had tested positive in Putian, consisting of 64 confirmed cases and 21 asymptomatic carriers, a local health official said.

The new outbreak has come ahead of two important holidays – the mid-Autumn festival in the third week of September, and the week-long National Holidays in the first week of October.

The last domestic outbreak (late July to August) disrupted travel, tourism, hospitality, and transportation sectors.

Chinese experts feel the case numbers in the current flare-up are likely to go up in the coming weeks.

The outbreak will likely spread to more regions across China but can be brought under control before the National Day holiday in October with the implementation of strong control measures, health experts told state media.

Since May, China has stamped out more than one local Covid-19 cluster outbreaks driven by emerging variants.

The same measures and control strategies are being implemented in Fujian – mass testing, swift tracing and quarantining of close contacts, and targeted small-scale lockdowns that minimise the impact on communities.

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By Milan

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