China reported an uptick in Covid-19 cases on Sunday, as the capital Beijing battled a resurgence in infections and a border prefecture in Inner Mongolia became the new epicentre of its latest wave.
The countrywide daily Covid-19 tally rose to 196, from 138 the previous day, according to the National Health Commission.
The outbreak of nearly 200 cases linked to the city centre Heaven Supermarket Bar, which had just reopened as curbs in Beijing eased last week, highlights how hard it will be for China to make a success of its "zero COVID" policy as much of the rest of the world opts to learn how to live with the virus.
Chinese officials have reversed the relaxation of some Covid rules in Beijing because of the outbreak.
Most children in the capital will not return to school next week as originally planned, officials said. The capital has reported 1,997 local Covid cases since 22 April.
China's overall policy of "zero Covid" remains in place and people catching Covid face quarantine or hospital. Their close contacts also face the prospect of removal to quarantine and the area immediately around where they live being locked down again.
Oil prices slipped more than $2 on Monday as a flare-up in Covid-19 cases in Beijing quelled hopes for a rapid pick-up in China’s fuel demand, while worries about global inflation and economic growth further depressed the market.
Prices tumbled after Chinese officials warned on Sunday of a “ferocious” Covid spread in the capital and announced plans to conduct mass testing in Beijing until Wednesday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated China’s commitment to zero-Covid, declaring “persistence is victory”, as Shanghai and Beijing were hit with new lockdowns, shutdowns, and mass testing drives just a week after the cities celebrated the easing of restrictions.
In response to China’s worst outbreak of the pandemic, Shanghai spent months under an arduous and strict citywide lockdown, while Beijing authorities imposed localised lockdowns, venue and public transport shutdowns, and work-from-home orders.
In the last week both had begun easing restrictions, with authorities praising the containment of the community outbreaks of the Omicron variant.
But on Thursday both cities went back on high alert for Covid cases, with new lockdowns in Shanghai districts home to millions of people, and the shutdown of entertainment venues in Beijing’s populous Chaoyang district. The return to restrictions sparked alarm and frustration among residents.
Meanwhile, China has repeated its assertion the theory that the Covid-19 pandemic began with a leak from a Chinese laboratory is “a politically motivated lie”, after the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended continued investigations this week.
“The lab leak theory is totally a lie concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing on Friday.
“We always supported and participated in science-based global virus tracing, but we firmly opposed any forms of political manipulation,” Zhao said, while attempting to shift the blame to the US, and claiming – without evidence – that Washington was developing the coronavirus as a bioweapon.