People stand in line for COVID-19 tests at a site in Beijing, Saturday, July 2, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Beijing: China’s COVID-19 cases continued to climb over the weekend with hundreds of infections detected in Anhui province where two counties were already in lockdown.

The country reported 385 local cases on Saturday, with mass screening resulting in more than 290 cases found in Anhui province alone. A lockdown was imposed in Lingbi country in northeastern Anhui from Friday afternoon, while the neighbouring Si county conducted its sixth mass testing on Sunday.

While China seems to have brought earlier outbreaks in mega cities Shanghai and Beijing under control, its COVID-Zero goal is facing a test again in its eastern provinces. Shanghai’s neighbouring Jiangsu province reported 59 cases on Saturday.

As of 5pm Sunday, Shanghai reported one community case in its Putuo district, after six days of the city reporting no community infections. Zhao Dandan, a vice director at Shanghai’s municipal health commission, cautioned in a briefing Sunday that the city still faces risks of a rebound in COVID cases. As college entrance exams are approaching, Wang Jue, a deputy head of the Putuo district, vowed to ensure a smooth operation of the key test for students.

President Xi Jinping on Wednesday reaffirmed the importance of sticking with the COVID-Zero policy. He said relaxing controls would risk too many lives in the world’s most populous country, and China would rather endure some temporary impact on economic development than let the virus hurt people’s safety and health.

Three asymptomatic cases were reported in Zhejiang Saturday. Yiwu airport in Zhejiang province said it is halting all flights to Beijing due to the virus. Resumption of flights will be determined at another time, according to the airport’s official WeChat account, without elaborating.

Macau, meanwhile, reported its first Covid-related fatalities - a 100-year-old woman and another who was 94, both of whom had underlying illnesses including high blood pressure. The city logged 90 new cases.

In Hong Kong, new Chief Executive John Lee said there is no immediate need for a universal compulsory Covid testing campaign in the city, but stressed a need to reduce daily infections, which have risen to the highest since April.

Lee, who was sworn in by Xi on Friday, told broadcaster TVB on Sunday that authorities need to carry out more laboratory nucleic acid testing for Covid, but this would not expand into a universal compulsory screening campaign for now.

The chief executive acknowledged the need to reduce transmissions but didn’t specify whether the goal would be to reach Covid Zero, the approach taken by mainland China, which deploys mass testing campaigns and lockdowns to stamp out infections.

Lee said his administration was working with Chinese officials to introduce quarantine-free travel for people coming from Hong Kong to the mainland. He also said quarantine requirements for international arrivals to Hong Kong could be adjusted to reduce inconveniences.

The city on Sunday reported a total of 1,828 new cases, 147 of them imported. Health authorities said at a briefing that there were no new virus-related deaths. One patient was in a critical condition and three were serious, they said.