BEIJING (Reuters) - Worries simmered in mainland China about a potential fresh wave of coronavirus cases ahead of the Lunar New Year next month as authorities on Sunday reported 109 new COVID-19 cases, most of them in Hebei province surrounding Beijing.
Though the Jan. 16 tally of new cases was less than the previous day's 130, China has in the past week seen the number of daily cases jump to an over 10-month high.
The unsettling trend has emerged while a World Health Organization-led (WHO) team of investigators remained in quarantine in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late 2019. The team aims to investigate the origins of the pandemic that has now killed over 2 million people worldwide.
Giving details of the latest daily caseload, the National Health Commission (NHC) said 96 were local infections, 72 of them in Hebei, 12 in northeastern Heilongjiang province, 10 in northeastern Jilin province and two in Beijing.
The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 119 on Saturday from 79 on Friday.
The numbers remain well below levels seen at the height of the outbreak in China in early 2020, but authorities remain on guard, and as a result of the outbreak in recent weeks a handful of cities have been put under lockdown.
NHC Minister Ma Xiaowei said on Saturday that outbreaks in the northeast have come from travellers entering the country or contaminated frozen food imports. China is the only country to claim COVID-19 can be transmitted via cold chain imports, even though the WHO has downplayed the risks.
Beijing city will begin requiring travellers from abroad to undergo health monitoring for seven additional days following 21 days of medical observation, state run news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday.
Shijiazhuang, Hebei's capital and the hardest-hit spot in the latest surge of infections, reported 65 new locally transmitted confirmed cases on Jan. 16, the provincial health commission said.
Zhang Yan, a provincial health official in Jilin, told a news conference that the outbreak there had been caused by infected people arriving in the province from Heilongjiang. Zhang said 102 recent infections were linked to one person who had traveled between the two provinces multiple times for marketing activities targeting old people.
The total of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China stands at 88,227, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,635.
(Reporting by Shivani Singh and Roxanne Liu; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Dan Grebler, William Mallard & Simon Cameron-Moore)