Despite its 1.4 billion population, China has largely stemmed new cases of domestic transmission of the virus, but recent reports have surfaced detailing that dozens of people have tested positive for the contagion in Hebei Province, which borders Beijing.
That outbreak comes at a concerning time, as the nation ramps up preparations for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. In an effort to keep the number of cases manageable, local authorities have conducted mass testing, directed citizens not to travel, and ordered schools to close a week early. Those entering Beijing from the province to work must show proof of employment and a clean bill of health.
“The worsening coronavirus situation will impact economic activity, and markets may need to temper their expectations for strong pent-up consumption demand in the coming Lunar New Year holidays in mid-February,” Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, said in a note Monday.
In the first quarter of last year, China’s economy shrank 6.8 percent as more than half the country went into lockdown.
Since the start of the pandemic roughly a year ago, China has recorded more than ninety-seven thousand total cases and forty-eight hundred related deaths, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Hospitals are currently treating about seven hundred patients for the virus, while five hundred other individuals are in isolation as possible asymptomatic cases.
On Thursday, a team of experts from the World Health Organization is set to arrive in China to investigate with local scientists the origins of the novel coronavirus. The agency has confirmed that the study will begin in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has long expressed disappointment over the months-long delays in getting a team into the country, but a breakthrough was recently made with the Chinese government, which is open to the idea of the virus having originated in a different country.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told local reporters that the visit by WHO experts was an opportunity to “exchange views with Chinese scientists and medical experts on scientific cooperation on the tracing of the origin of the new coronavirus.”
He continued: “Along with continuous changes in the epidemic situation, our knowledge of the virus deepens, and more early cases are discovered,” adding that the search for the virus’ origin will likely involve “multiple countries and localities.”
The United Nations stated on Monday that it is “fully supportive” of the WHO’s efforts in sending a research team to China.
“It’s very important that as the WHO is in the lead in fighting the pandemic, that it also has a leading role in trying to look back at the roots of this pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next one,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.