Officials taking steps to contain cases because of concerns about travel for the New Year holidays next month.

Mainland China reported the largest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in more than five months on Monday, the country’s national health agency said, as the number of new infections in Hebei province, near Beijing, continued to rise and the number of cases increased scattered elsewhere.

According to the National Health Commission (NHC), Hebei accounted for 82 of the 85 local infections reported on Jan. 10, with Liaoning province also reporting two new cases and Beijing reporting one new case. The country also saw 18 new imported infections from overseas.

The total number of new COVID-19 cases was 103, the highest since 127 cases reported on July 30.

Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, who is in Beijing, said the outbreak was “the most serious” in months and caused concern among officials as a major national holiday approached.

“We are only a few months away from the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel across the country to enjoy the weeklong vacation with their families. So they are really desperate to have these cases outbreak that has been brought under control by then, ”she said.

In the past week, over 460 new #coronavirus cases were reported in #China. The cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai, both just a few hours’ drive from Beijing, have been locked. Authorities say a second round of mass testing will start there soon and key workers will be tested every day.

– Katrina Yu (@Katmyu) January 11, 2021

Although the number of newly reported cases is only a tiny fraction of what the country saw at the height of the outbreak in early 2020, it has been criticized for local authorities being too slow to deal with the outbreak, Yu said.

Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, is currently on lockdown. People and vehicles are not allowed to leave the city, and public transport is blocked. A second wave of mass testing has begun and all frontline workers, from bus drivers to medical staff, need to be tested daily, she said.

Last week, three officials in Hebei were sacked for inadequate handling of the outbreak.

The cases have all been linked to a patient confirmed to have COVID-19 on January 2, but it remains unclear how the outbreak began.

Wangkui County, which is under the jurisdiction of Suihua City in Heilongjiang Province, reported eight new asymptomatic cases and moved on Monday to close all non-essential businesses, preventing people from leaving the city and blocking everything not essential traffic, state television reported.

Every family in the county can let one person out of their home every three days to buy essentials, the report said.

The Hebei Highway Authority said Monday that several sections of the province’s highways have been closed for COVID-19 prevention and that vehicles registered in Shijiazhuang and Xingtai will be asked to return. The latter city has also reported COVID-19 cases in the past few days.

The NHC reported 76 new asymptomatic patients across mainland China, up from 27 the previous day. Although these people are known to have the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease, China does not count them as “confirmed” cases because they have no symptoms.

The total confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 87,536, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

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