Mon. Jan 18th, 2021

Beijing (AP) – Chinese Officials have asked residents of two cities south of Beijing to stay indoors for seven days as they try to stamp out a COVID-19 outbreak in which more than 300 people have tested positive in the past week.

The cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai in Hebei Province are restricting people to their communities and villages and have banned the gatherings, according to notices posted on social media.

Hebei reported 14 more confirmed cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total to 137 in the ongoing outbreak. It has found 197 other people without symptoms to test positive. China does not include such asymptomatic cases in its confirmed count.

Beijing needs workers from Hebei that will show proof of employment in Beijing and a negative COVID test before entering the country’s capital. Chinese media reported an hour-long backup at entry points on Friday.

In a separate outbreak, three more cases were reported in Liaoning province in the northeast, taking the total to 84 as the first cases were reported about three weeks earlier. There have been 31 cases in Beijing in the same period, although there are no new cases in the last 24 hours.

Other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

Health officials in Beijing said COVID vaccine shots would be free in China, where more than 9 million doses have been given. “Ordinary people will not need to spend a penny,” said Zheng Zhongwei, an official of the National Health Commission, at a news conference. The announcement cleared confusion from a news conference nine days ago, in which Zheng said it would be affordable, and a senior official, Deputy Minister Zeng Yixin, jumped in to say it would be free. The cost will be covered by a National Medical Insurance Fund and a government fund. A major holiday in mid-February, medical and transport staff and other major groups have been given nearly 7.4 million shots since the launch of a campaign to vaccinate them before the Lunar New Year. More than 1.6 million shots were given in previous months. Zeng, the deputy minister, said a specific time for the visit is being determined by a WHO expert team on the origin of the virus and that it will be joined by Chinese experts in the city’s Wuhan, where new coronovirus cases were first discovered It was late 2019. WHO chief Tedros Adnom Ghebius expressed disappointment earlier this week that the Chinese side had not finalized the necessary permission for the visit. Two members of the team who were already on the way had to turn back. Tedros said in Geneva on Friday that he expected dates to be set for next week.

– Many regional governments in Japan have called for the status of an emergency declaration issued by the Prime Minister to the Tokyo region to stop the increasing increase in cases of coronary virus. The heads of Hyogo Prefecture in Osaka, Kyoto and Central Japan said in an online conference call on Saturday at the request of Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of coronovirus measures, Osaka Village. Hosofumi Yoshimura told reporters. Yoshimura said there was no immediate decision, but a government panel of medical experts would study the situation. The state of Japan’s emergency, which kicked off for Tokyo and nearby Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba on Friday, calls for the closure of nearby restaurants and bars at 8 pm. It lasts for a month but can be extended. Gifu province declared its month-long state of emergency on Saturday. Other provinces may follow suit. Japan has recently seen more than 7,000 new cases a day, with Tokyo’s daily cases above 2,000. In total, Japan has confirmed more than 270,000 cases, including more than 3,900 deaths.

– Sri Lankan prison authorities have decided to free more than 100 prisoners, who are serving prison sentences due to their inability to pay fines, in an effort to prevent the spread of coronovirus within crowded facilities. Some 4,121 inmates and 129 prison officials have tested positive for the virus in five prisons in different parts of the island nation. Sri Lankan jails are overcrowded, with more than 26,000 prisoners with a total capacity of 10,000. On Saturday, the jail authorities asked about 150 inmates who are serving jail sentences because they could not pay the fine so that they could be released under a special pardon announced by the government. The authority has been releasing prisoners on various grounds since December. So far 10,227 prisoners have been released. Sri Lanka has confirmed a total of 47,304 coronavirus cases, including 225 deaths.

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