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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

May 13, 2020
Medical workers with a patient in Wuhan in February  Image: PA

WUHAN, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first identified towards the end of last year, has reported its first cluster of infections since the lockdown was lifted last month, triggering fears about the possibility of a deadly second wave of the disease.

China is trying to get back to normal after nationwide restrictions were eased, with businesses allowed to reopen and millions of people permitted to go back to work - but the fresh outbreak will come as a serious blow. A total of five new cases have been confirmed so far, all of whom live in the same residential compound. One of them was the wife of an 89-year-old man who was reported a day earlier in the first confirmed case in Wuhan in well over a month.

A statement issued by the Wuhan Health Authority said: "At present, the task of epidemic prevention and control in the city is still very heavy.

"We must resolutely contain the risk of a rebound."

All of the latest confirmed cases were previously classified as asymptomatic, people who test positive for the virus and are capable of infecting others but do not show clinical signs such as a fever.

The number of asymptomatic cases in China is unknown, because health officials only become aware of them when they show up positive during tests conducted as part of contact tracing and health checks.

China does not include asymptomatic cases in its overall tally of confirmed cases, currently at 82,918, until they exhibit signs of infection, with some experts suggesting the actual figure is therefore very much higher.

In March, the Chinese government urged health officials to pay more attention to asymptomatic cases, warning they were being overlooked.

Hundreds of asymptomatic cases in Wuhan, which was released on April 8 from a months-long lockdown, are currently being monitored, according to the city's health authority.

In total, mainland China has reported 4,633 deaths - although doubts have also been voiced about the accuracy of the figure.

Speaking last month, Wuhan resident Liu Pei'en, whose father died of the disease, claimed the city's death toll was vastly than the official tally, 2,579.

He explained: "The real number should be 10 times higher than the reported number.

"The death toll now is 2,500. The real number in Wuhan should be more than 20,000."

The number of new cases reported across China since April has been small compared with the thousands confirmed each day in February, largely as a result of a nationwide regime of screening, testing and quarantine.

The government said on Friday that China will gradually reopen cinemas, museums and other recreational venues, though restrictions including mandatory reservations and a limit on numbers will be in place.

Shanghai has already reopened some night entertainment venues such as discotheques. Walt Disney Co on Monday reopened its Shanghai Disneyland park to a reduced number of visitors.

However, new outbreaks in China in the past two months have cropped up in residential compounds and hospitals.

South Korea is also fighting a fresh wave of new cases, although there the most recent outbreaks started in nightclubs and bars.

The Wuhan cases mean the number of new COVID-19 infections confirmed on May 10 to 17, the highest daily increase since April 28.

Northeastern Jilin province, where the city of Shulan reported a cluster of infections on Saturday, reported three new cases, one of them a resident of the city.

Shulan is currently designated a high-risk area, the only place in China currently with that designation, with Mayor Jin Hua admitted: "We're now in a 'war-time' mode.

The city imposed a lockdown on its 600,000 residents at the weekend, with just one member of a household being allowed outside to buy necessities.

The other two were from the city of Jilin.

Additionally, nearby Liaoning and Heilongjiang provinces have each reported one case. Worryingly, one, a 70-year-old patient in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, tested negative seven times before

Across China, the number of new asymptomatic COVID-19 cases dropped to 12 on May 10 compared with 20 reported a day earlier.