A record number of coronavirus infections in Xinjiang, the Chinese region where authorities have been accused of widespread human rights abuses, has prompted concerns the country faces another wave of the pandemic.
China’s National Health Commission on Tuesday announced 64 locally-transmitted Covid-19 cases, marking the country’s biggest one-day spike since March. Of those, 57 were found in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital.
In the last two weeks, 280 cases have been confirmed nationwide. The latest outbreak in China — where Covid-19 was first reported earlier this year — comes as countries across the region suffer resurgences in the virus.
Vietnam, on Tuesday, temporarily closed the coastal city of Danang’s airport and evacuated 80,000 tourists after finding a cluster of infections. The country had previously reported no new coronavirus cases for months.
Hong Kong this week introduced its toughest lockdown restrictions in response to its worst outbreak yet, while parts of Australia and Japan are again struggling to contain the virus.
The latest outbreaks could also provide a test for Beijing’s tough approach to the pandemic. Unlike some countries that have sought to only slow Covid-19’s spread, China has tried to eliminate the virus within its borders.
Since late March when China first reported zero locally-transmitted cases, new infections have been met with sweeping lockdowns and contact tracing and testing. But multiple small clusters of cases continue to appear.
“The risk of further coronavirus outbreaks cannot be ruled out, but the authorities’ recent success in rapidly containing a spike in infections in Beijing points to a growing capacity to manage outbreaks locally,” wrote analysts at Fitch, referring to a recent outbreak in the capital.
Liaoning province, in China’s north-east, reported six new infections on Tuesday. The port city of Dalian plans to test all of its 6m residents following an outbreak believed to have originated at an imported seafood processing plant. Beijing reported one new case of Covid-19, which it said was linked to the Dalian cluster.
The outbreak in Xinjiang comes despite China having rolled out blanket surveillance and strict controls on movement in the region, where it has been accused by the US and UK of human rights abuses. Authorities earlier this month launched an RNA testing drive after discovering new Covid-19 cases in Urumqi.
Over the past three years, more than 1m Uighurs and other Muslims minorities have been interned in Xinjiang, measures China says are to combat “extremism”.
Uighur activists living outside China fear that the secrecy surrounding internment camps, as well as their cramped and unhygienic conditions, could allow Covid-19 to spread rapidly.