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Five weeks ago, Wuhan was celebrating the end of a painful 76-day lockdown, after apparently stamping out the world’s first coronavirus outbreak which had infected more than 50,000 people in the city.
But now the virus is back, and the city is urgently gearing up for a new “10-day battle,” drawing up plans to test every one of its 11 million residents to prevent a devastating second wave.
Chinese state media reported Tuesday that city authorities were preparing plans to test millions of residents in the coming days, after a new cluster of cases was detected over the weekend. The six patients in that cluster, who all live in the same residential compound, are the first new cases in the city since April 3.
One patient, an 89-year-old man, had reportedly shown symptoms in March, but was only confirmed as infected on Saturday. Subsequent testing of about 5,000 other residents in the complex uncovered five more cases. On Monday, Zhang Yuxin, the chief Communist Party official in Changqing where the clusters were detected, was sacked “for failures in epidemic prevention and control work.”
In response to the new cluster, authorities in Wuhan plan to conduct city-wide nucleic acid testing, which is taken by nasal or throat swabs, over a period of 10 days, according to an emergency notice circulated by state-run news outlet The Paper. According to the document, every district in the city has been ordered to submit a detailed testing plan for its respective area, with older people and densely populated communities to be prioritized for testing.
Mass testing the city’s 11 million residents over a short time period would be a huge undertaking, and with no details available on the proposal, experts had different takes on how the city would go about doing it.
Peng Zhiyong, director of the intensive care unit of the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, told the state-run Global Times Tuesday that testing efforts would likely focus on vulnerable groups first, such as medical workers and others were likely to have been exposed. Another expert at the university, Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of its pathogen biology department, told the newspaper that the city had already tested between 3 to 5 million residents previously, and that the mass testing drive would likely focus on those who hadn’t been tested before.
Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of epidemiology at City University of Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post that he welcomed the move. “The more cases that can be found the better,” Pfeiffer said.
In the U.S., about 300,000 tests are carried out each day, President Donald Trump said Monday, adding the country is on track to pass 10 million coronavirus tests this week. Those figures square with those published by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization that collects and publishes data on the U.S. outbreak.
Around the world, countries that have successfully flattened the curve have lifted restrictions, only to face new outbreaks. In Germany, the virus’s reproduction rate — a key measure in mapping the spread of COVID-19 — has risen above 1 as society has gradually reopened, while in South Korea, authorities are scrambling to contain a new cluster of more than 100 people linked to recently reopened nightclubs.
Cover: A worker in protective overalls take the temperature of a traveler from Wuhan before directing her to her district in Beijing on Sunday, April 19, 2020. Wuhan, the city at the center of the global coronavirus epidemic, lifted a 76-day lockdown early April and allowed people to leave for destinations across China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)