BEIJING, Jan 8 — China’s capital of Beijing shut places of worship today and authorities restricted access to a highway to the city of Shijiazhuang, nearly 300km to the south-west, which is battling a new cluster of coronavirus infections.

The number of new cases in China remains small compared with outbreaks in some other countries, and compared with early last year at the height of its outbreak, which emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Authorities have taken aggressive measures, including mass testing and sealing off of high-risk communities, to stamp out new clusters but small outbreaks have been flaring, especially as winter set in.

All of Beijing’s 155 religious sites were closed to the public, a city official said, while some entry and exit ramps to the highway to Shijiazhuang were blocked off.

Festivities for next month’s Lunar New Year have also been banned in rural parts of the sprawling capital.

In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province that surrounds Beijing, most flights in and out were cancelled today, as of late afternoon, according to Flightradar24, a day after the city of 11 million barred people from leaving.

Shijiazhuang accounted for 31 of the 37 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases and 35 of the 57 asymptomatic cases reported in mainland China on Thursday.

Shijiazhuang has launched a citywide Covid-19 testing drive, banned gatherings and ordered vehicles and people in high-risk areas to remain in their districts to keep the infections from spreading.

The north-eastern province of Liaoning, which reported two new local infections and one new imported infection yesterday, also said today it had extended the quarantine period for arrivals from overseas to 21 days from 14.

Once those people are released from quarantine, they will be monitored for another seven days in their homes.

They will be asked to avoid unnecessary trips and public transport and to stay away from group activities during the monitoring period, Liaoning Daily, the official newspaper the provincial committee of the Communist party, reported today.

For all of mainland China, new Covid-19 cases reported today fell to 53 from 63 a day earlier. The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases to date now stands at 87,331, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634. — Reuters