Panic buying has swept Wuhan as the Chinese city battles its first Covid surge in more than a year.
Locals living in the former virus ‘ground zero’ have raided supermarket shelves as rising infections spark fears of being forced back into lockdown.
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Mass testing has been launched in the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019 before spreading around the world.
The provincial capital of 11 million people in central China is the latest city to undergo citywide testing after eight new infections were reported on Tuesday.
Wuhan, which gave the world its first glimpses of gruelling lockdowns in the early months of the pandemic, had reported no local coronavirus cases since mid-May last year.
Its strict but successful 76-day lockdown shocked the world but was soon replicated globally.
China brought domestic cases down to virtually zero, allowing the economy to rebound and life to return largely to normal.
But a fresh outbreak has thrown that record into jeopardy as the rapidly-spreading Delta variant reaches 20 cities in more than a dozen provinces.
Nine international airport cleaners in the city of Nanjing are believed to have sparked a chain of cases across the country, with 414 in the past two weeks.
The National Health Commission said on Tuesday that 90 new cases had been confirmed the previous day.
Millions of people across China have been confined to their homes in response to the outbreak.
Domestic transport links have been cut and mass testing rolled out, with tourists barred in holiday destinations during the peak summer season.
And residents in Wuhan have packed into supermarkets to stock up on groceries and household supplies in preparation for further lockdowns.
Officials on Tuesday vowed to “calm the panicked mood of city residents”, announcing that shops had promised to keep prices and supply chains stable.
The new cases in the city, along with infections in nearby Jingzhou and Huanggang, were linked to cases found in Huaian city in Jiangsu province, said Li Yang, vice director of Hubei’s provincial disease control centre.
The outbreak in Jiangsu is believed to have begun in the provincial capital of Nanjing, with the Delta variant mostly likely introduced on a flight from Russia, officials have said.
Since then numerous cities in southern China and a few in the north, including Beijing, have reported infections.
Of the 90 new confirmed patients reported on Tuesday, 61 were locally transmitted, the health authority said.
As of August 2, mainland China had recorded 93,193 confirmed cases, with the cumulative death toll unchanged at 4,636.
Labs in the Wuhan have been at the centre of the storm since the virus emerged just a stone’s throw from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was known to be studying very similar bat viruses.
Shocking biosecurity lapses spanning more than 40 years have led some to question the official Chinese line that the disease was passed from animals to humans – and the lab leak theory is gaining momentum.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished with permission