The spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 shows no signs of slowing down in China as a case emerged in the flood-hit city of Zhengzhou.
The National Health Commission reported a total of 55 daily cases from Friday, including 25 imported cases and 30 local ones, with the local transmissions mostly in the provinces of Jiangsu and Hunan.
Of the 19 new cases in Jiangsu, six were confirmed in the provincial capital Nanjing where the current cluster originated and 10 were in the city of Yangzhou, mostly individuals over the age of 60 who had visited mahjong parlours.
NHC spokesman Mi Feng said on Saturday that 328 new confirmed cases were reported across China this month, nearing the total from the previous five months.
There have been new local transmissions in 14 provinces, with most of the infections from the quickly transmissible Delta variant, he said.
The city of Zhengzhou in the central province of Henan, already hard hit by severe flooding, also reported one asymptomatic case on Saturday.
Record-high rainfall has affected nearly 11.45 million residents in the province, forcing more than 1.3 million to relocate and with an official death toll of at least 99 people.
Zhengzhou Communist Party chief Xu Liyi told an emergency meeting on Saturday morning that the current outbreak “spreads very quickly” and that more suspected cases had already been found.
“The epidemic prevention situation is extremely serious,” he said, according to official media.
“The whole city from top to bottom needs to quickly take action and immediately respond, and to quickly begin the fight to prevent and control the epidemic, while at the same time properly carrying out our post-disaster rebuilding work.”
Amid the challenges, authorities have shaken up the city’s political leadership.
Zhengzhou’s top party body removed Fu Guirong as party secretary and director of the city’s health commission on Saturday.
The city’s health commission also dismissed Ma Shuhuan from her position as party secretary of the Sixth People’s Hospital of Zhengzhou, a key medical facility in the city.
Both officials were commended by the local government last year for their work in battling the coronavirus.
On Monday, Fu was seen leading a team of medical experts on a visit to frontline flood control personnel.
Elsewhere in the country, two local confirmed cases were reported in Chongqing in the southwest, and one case each in Liaoning, Sichuan and Fujian provinces.
There are growing concerns as the virus continues to spread across China from the cluster in Nanjing, which broke out last week after several cleaners at the Nanjing Lukou International Airport were found to be infected.
Its spread is being fuelled by the Delta variant of the virus, which has infected more than 200 people in 26 other cities, including the first cases in Beijing in nearly six months.
There has also been an outbreak in Zhangjiajie, a popular tourist destination in Hunan, with confirmed cases found among employees at travel agencies.
Public health experts have warned that the outbreak is still in its early stages. It follows an outbreak in May in Guangdong province in the south that led to 167 cases the country’s first instance of the community spread of the Delta variant.
Authorities across the country have stepped up prevention measures in the wake of the latest outbreaks. Nanjing officials said on Saturday that the city was undergoing its third round of nucleic acid testing for the virus, and said it would take 10 days to carry out a disinfection process at the city’s airport.
All of the outdoor areas of tourist sites in Nanjing have been closed from Saturday, after the closure of indoor spaces such as cinemas, museums, libraries and performance centres.
In Fujian, the port city of Xiamen has suspended large-scale gatherings and activities and asked all residents not to go outside unless necessary.
Global cases of the virus may soon exceed 200 million cases, with the rapid spread of the deadly Delta variant causing worldwide deaths from the virus to surge by 21 per cent over the past week, according to the World Health Organization.
China has taken particularly aggressive measures in handling virus outbreaks, including partial and full lockdowns, strict restrictions on individuals coming into the country and several rounds of mass testing in cities.