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Outbreak probe: Virus initially spread from object to person

By ZHENG CAIXIONG and DU JUAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-01-29 07:21
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Left: Staff members work at a COVID-19 nucleic acid testing center in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Jan 27, 2022. Right: Workers pack daily supplies for locked-down areas at a distribution center in Hangzhou on Jan 28, 2022. [Photo by Dong Xuming/for China Daily]

Catering equipment company could be source of latest epidemic in Hangzhou

A preliminary investigation into the cause of the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, indicates that the coronavirus first spread from an object to a person at a catering equipment company before further spreading to local communities, a senior health official from the province said.

"From the current epidemiological investigation and analysis, the transmission chain of the novel coronavirus is relatively clear," Lou Xiaoming, deputy director of the Zhejiang Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference on Friday.

As of noon on Friday, the city has 30 confirmed cases, 16 of whom work at the local Welbilt (China) Catering Equipment Co. The rest were infected after coming into direct or indirect contact with those 16 cases, Lou said.

Furthermore, sequencing of the city's first case found he was infected with the Omicron variant, Lou said.

"It has low homology with the virus genome detected in other parts of the mainland, and it is highly homologous with the coronavirus sequence sampled abroad on Dec 11," he said.

"Four of the 11 samples collected from imported goods at the company tested positive for the Omicron variant, indicating there is a great possibility the virus was transmitted to the person from a contaminated object," he added.

The eastern metropolis reported eight new confirmed cases in the first 12 hours on Friday, bringing the city's case total to 30, Lou said.

On Thursday, Xia Shichang, deputy director of the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission, said Omicron may have undergone three generations of spread in Hangzhou over the previous week. This means a person who contracted the virus from a nonhuman source infected someone else, who then infected another person.

The city's first case, surnamed Gan, felt symptomatic on Monday and went to the hospital the next day. His initial screening was positive, Xia said.

"Early Wednesday morning, medical experts declared Gan to be a confirmed case infected by the Omicron variant," Xia said in an interview with China Central Television on Thursday.

Gan participated in Welbilt's annual conference on Jan 19 before the company started its Lunar New Year holiday break. "We estimated Gan might have been infected on Jan 19. It was nearly a week before he was diagnosed as a case. Therefore, three generations may have spread in Hangzhou," he said.

Separately, in order to ensure swift nucleic acid testing for the public, Li Ang, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said at a news conference on Friday afternoon that qualified hospitals had started opening special windows especially for people who are required to take the test, and these hospitals are making efforts to increase their capacities to provide testing for more people.

According to current epidemic control and prevention measures in the city, people who have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus will get alerts from Beijing Jiankangbao, a mobile-based app used to check health codes.

Hospitals should designate areas to separate people who get alerts urging them to get nucleic acid tests from others, in order to avoid potential cross infection, Li said.

Beijing reported four new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours ending on 4 pm Friday. All four cases are infected with the Delta variant.

Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the Beijing municipal government, said the city has not reported a new Omicron case for five days, and the number of new Delta cases is decreasing.

"The epidemic situation in the capital is under control," he said.

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