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Coronavirus Outbreaks Across China Are Causing Lockdowns And Travel Controls

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To China now, where the delta variant is spreading quickly - over the last week, around 600 cases of the coronavirus have been identified across the country. Many are linked to a delta variant cluster first found at a Chinese airport. NPR's Emily Feng reports.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: The first delta cases were found in the city of Nanjing. Authorities believe that it may have traveled on the surface of international baggage. From there, infected airport workers passed it on to four Chinese tourists. They then made their way to Zhangjiajie, a popular tourist spot known for sharp, vertical mountains that inspired the world in "Avatar."

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FENG: And while there, they watched this musical performance about the history and culture of the region. The musical was also attended by about 1,000 other people, making it a superspreader event.

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FENG: Zhangjiajie is now on lockdown. And from there, the delta variant has now spread to at least 18 provinces, including to the city of Wuhan, where the first strain of novel coronavirus was discovered in people. Authorities have locked down the hardest-hit neighborhoods. It's all part of China's zero tolerance approach to COVID - to contain it at all costs. And Beijing, China's capital, is being very careful, even though they only have 20 coronavirus cases right now.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: In this Monday press conference, Beijing health authorities said they are preventing anyone who has been to an area with COVID cases from entering Beijing. China's immigration authorities also said this week they were not going to issue new passports to their citizens unless they really had to travel abroad for education or work.

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FENG: Beijing authorities have also begun mass testing anyone with any travel history to potentially risky areas in the last month. At this one Beijing test site this week, hundreds of residents lined up to get nasal swabs. There was some grumbling about the discomfort, but mostly everyone was nervous that the delta variant could mean returning to the paranoia and discomfort of the pandemic.

Emily Feng, NPR News, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.