Rule-breaking couple blamed for Covid outbreak in Beijing


China’s latest Covid-19 outbreak, caused by a rule-breaking elderly couple enjoying China’s tourist sites, has now spread to the closely guarded capital city of Beijing and possibly beyond.

The flareup that surfaced over the weekend has been tied to two retired university lecturers from Shanghai who started a road trip with several others through the nation’s scenic northwestern provinces in early October, according to media reports. The pathogen proliferated, sparking a handful of local cases in northwestern provinces in recent days.

One traveler from Gansu—a close contact of an infected patient—was diagnosed in Beijing on Monday. It’s the city’s first case since a widespread outbreak caused by the highly infectious Delta variant this summer prompted officials to scrap travel there to stop further transmission. Authorities have now sealed off apartment buildings and other related venues, according to a statement Tuesday from local health officials.

It’s the latest resurgence in China, the last holdout of several so-called Covid Zero countries seeking to eliminate the virus. It comes just days after the country contained two separate Delta outbreaks in its northeastern and coastal provinces.

The elderly couple at the center of the outbreak tested positive on Saturday during their tour, which started around October 9 and included stops in Gansu and Inner Mongolia, according to the Global Times. A day earlier, on Friday, October 15, the pair underwent batch testing in Gansu, where they were informed that their results came back abnormal.

Unprotected travel

They nevertheless left the city without informing authorities, and continued on to Shaanxi province. The next day they were tested again. While they were waiting for the results, they traveled around the provincial capital of Xi’an and visited many scenic spots. That evening the results came back positive. Several people in Shaanxi province were subsequently found to be infected, with Inner Mongolia and Gansu both reporting new cases on Tuesday.

While tiny in comparison to outbreaks in most countries, the cluster—about 20 infections identified so far—underscores the challenges of eliminating the virus. The more dangerous Delta variant has wreaked havoc on Covid responses across the globe. It has breached tight containment measures more often than previous strains in China, which has some of the world’s toughest defenses against Covid and responds aggressively to every new case.

Xi’an, the Shaanxi capital that’s home to 13 million people and the location of the Terracotta Army, is preparing to roll out citywide testing, according to the Global Times.

Ejina, a county in western Inner Mongolia where additional infections were found, has decided to test all residents and visitors for Covid-19 starting Tuesday.

The risk is that the outbreak may spread further.

Another case was reported in the southern Chinese province of Hunan on Tuesday, more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away from the clusters in the northwestern provinces, though the person also was coming from Gansu. Southwestern Guizhou province also reported a case, of a man who had been to Gansu and Inner Mongolia among other places during his vacation in recent days, according to state-backed China News Service.

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