New China outbreak unnerves officials, sends oil price down

National Health Commission reports more than 179 new coronavirus cases for first time since July as second city in Hebei province goes into lockdown; 11 million citizens reportedly in lockdowns

New China outbreak unnerves officials, sends oil price down
A medical worker collects a swab from a resident during a mass nucleic acid testing programme initiated following the latest coronavirus disease outbreak in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Photo: Reuters 

(ATF) China’s confirmed coronavirus cases topped 100 in a day for the first time since July 2020, as the outbreak in Hebei province continues to grow, unnerving the government and sending oil markets wobbling.

On Monday, China's National Health Commission reported 103 new symptomatic cases the previous day, of which 18 were from people entering the country. In addition, the country identified 76 asymptomatic cases. 

Nearly all of the 85 new domestic symptomatic cases were in Hebei province, which borders Beijing. The origin of the latest outbreak has not yet been identified, and epidemiological investigations are underway.

Xingtai has become the second city in Hebei to impose a lockdown after the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, local authorities said.

Local governments around the country have started implementing epidemic controls aimed at travellers from China's north, such as quarantine and testing. 

Last week, Beijing’s municipal government told residents not to travel for the forthcoming Chinese New Year holidays unless it was “necessary”, fearing further spread of the Hebei outbreak.

State Council meeting

The new outbreak has unnerved the Chinese government, particularly as officials appeared to have the country under control.

Premier Li Keqiang addressed the outbreak at a State Council meeting on Friday. "We must ... not relax the prevention and control work," he said, according to the National Health Commission.

Li called for "early detection, early reporting, early isolation and early treatment" as well as better monitoring. The premier said the winter was a dangerous time for health risks and urged authorities to "ensure a safety and stable supply of energy to ensure the warmth of the people through the winter".

Oil prices fell on Monday on renewed concerns about demand given the prospect of new movement restrictions in China, the world's second-largest oil user, after the jump in cases there.

Brent crude oil futures fell 42 cents, or 0.8%, to $55.57 a barrel on Monday after earlier climbing to $56.39, its highest level since February 25, 2020.

"Covid hotspots flaring again in Asia, with 11 million people (in) lockdowns in Hebei province... along with a touch of Fed policy uncertainty has triggered some profit taking out of the gates this morning," Reuters quoted Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi in Bangkok, as saying in a note on Monday.

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