All residents in China's Wuhan will now be tested for COVID-19, authorities in the city said on Tuesday. The development comes after reports said the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 has spread to 18 provinces of China, with fresh cases emerging in capital Beijing on Sunday. Speaking at a press conference, senior Wuhan official Li Tao Tuesday said the city of 11 million is "swiftly launching comprehensive nucleic acid testing of all residents".
At least 18 provinces in China have even sounded an alarm about COVID-19, as more than 300 domestic cases were detected in 10 days, posing great challenges to the country as it deals with the worst epidemic in months, official media reported.
At least 27 cities in 18 provinces reported more than 300 confirmed cases in recent days, including Beijing, Jiangsu and Sichuan, state-run Global Times reported on Sunday.
With this, China has confined the residents of entire cities to their homes, cut domestic transport links and rolled out mass testing in recent days as it battles its largest coronavirus outbreak in months.
The number of medium and high-risk regions across the country rose to 95 on Sunday, of which 91 are medium-risk regions and four are high-risk regions, including Dehong Prefecture of Yunnan, Nanjing of Jiangsu and Zhengzhou of Henan, the report said.
Capital city Beijing reported two new COVID-19 confirmed and one asymptomatic case on Sunday, a spokesperson said at a press briefing.
The three are all family members who returned from Zhangjiajie, a tourist destination in South China's Hunan Province with recent outbreaks.
The Beijing Centre for Disease Control (CDC) tested the confirmed patients on Thursday and the result shows they all contracted the contagious Delta variant.
People, vehicles, airlines and trains from regions with reported COVID-19 infections are being restricted from entering Beijing, Beijing municipal government said on Sunday.
The Chinese CDC compared the cases with the cases in Nanjing and found that they were on the same infection chain, official media reported.
This wave of domestic outbreaks started with the infections of cleaners from Nanjing’s Lukou International Airport, later it spread to more local people and other provinces after shared travel experiences at a tourist destination in Zhangjiajie, Central China's Hunan Province.
On Saturday over 11,000 tourists were found to have visited Zhangjiajie. After the outbreak, all the tourist spots there were shutdown and all the tourists were asked to undergo COVID-19 tests before leaving the area.
Covid-19 virus leaked from Wuhan lab
Meanwhile, an investigation by the US House of Representatives Republicans on Monday revealed the COVID-19 virus emerged from a genetically modified virus that leaked from the infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). The report by Representative Michael McCaul, a top Republican at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is based on open-source material.
"As we continue to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe it's time to completely dismiss the wet market as the source of the outbreak. Instead, as this report lays out, a preponderance of the evidence proves that all roads lead to the WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology)," McCaul said in a statement.
The report also raises concern that the lab was conducting "gain-of-function" research in an unsafe environment.
"We know gain-of-function research was happening at the WIV and we know it was being done in unsafe conditions," he added.
Once dismissed as conspiracy, the "lab leak theory" has recently gained steam with scientists across the world demanding fresh probes into the Covid-19 origins.
The investigation also parallels efforts by US President Joe Biden's administration, which has set a September deadline for the intelligence community to report the origins of the pandemic outbreak.
China's response to Wuhan lab leak theory
Dismissing all related allegations, China has maintained the first cases likely emerged from animal to human transmission at a wet market in the city of Wuhan. According to the Republican report, maintenance and renovation taking place at the WIV and the adjacent lab, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, related to its hazardous waste treatment system and air conditioning systems while carrying out research on coronaviruses, is a cause of concern.
Such instances were taking place in the months preceding the first known cases of COVID-19, the report states.
Further, the investigators suggest that the first cases of Covid occurred in August or September of 2019, and not mid-November, as another reporting has suggested. They also flagged that scientists at the Wuhan lab, including American researchers, had the ability to modify genetically altered viruses without leaving any trace that they had been tampered with.
"An American scientist, Dr. Ralph Baric, assisted in creating a method to leave no trace of genetic modification as early as 2005," the report states.
"And as early as 2017, scientists working at the WIV were able to do the same. This makes it clear that claims by the scientific community that SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] could not be man-made because it has no genetic modification markers are disingenuous."