China's Lunar New Year festivities are threatened as the country confirmed one death from COVID-19 Thursday and as the government attempts to take down a fierce outbreak in Hebei province.
The latest coronavirus-linked death is the first in eight months and has brought China's cumulative fatalities to 4,635.
To stem the Hebei outbreak, the government has required people seeking to enter Beijing to carry COVID-19 test results and proof of employment.
Millions are affected by new lockdowns announced across the province and, with 124 of 138 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country from Hebei, concerns are rising about how festivities will be held next month.
The Lunar New Year is fast approaching - and the event is a major barometer for domestic consumption.
Consumption has been at the center of the China economy's growth debate over the past few days. The lockdown in Hebei's capital of Shijiazhuang that started Jan. 6 has had an effect on consumption of daily necessities.
Residents of Shijiazhuang said they had difficulty getting important daily goods but bartering had helped alleviate the challenges.
The Lunar New Year festivities are expected to drive consumption in the country as family members purchase gifts and prepare for large family get-togethers during the holidays.
But experts warn there should be limited expectations for consumer spending during the holiday week owing to uncertainties that come with lockdowns.
Meanwhile, a group of experts from the World Health Organization arrived in Wuhan Thursday to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus.
The organization's team will undergo a 14-day quarantine before it starts collecting data on COVID's origins in the city. The investigation wants to determine how the virus was transmitted from animals to humans.
The team of 11 is led by organization animal diseases expert Peter Embarek - who visited China in July for preliminary studies.
In November, Embarek said the team's goal was to conduct in-depth interviews with initial cases as well as attempt to detect previously missed cases while pushing the history of cases as far back as possible.
Outside Wuhan and Shijiazhuang, another province has been struggling to contain a new outbreak. The northeastern province of Heilongjiang declared a state of emergency late Wednesday following 16 confirmed locally transmitted infections.
The 556 asymptomatic cases detected Wednesday are being monitored as officials said most of the new asymptomatic infections were traced back to Heilongjiang and Hebei clusters.
The government is encouraging people to stay home during the Lunar New Year to prevent further transmissions. Lockdowns remain in effect in Xingatai, Shijiazhuang, Langfang and Wangkui.
China has logged more than 87,844 confirmed cumulative coronavirus cases. The Wuhan shutdown last year affected around 11 million people - but the latest lockdown in different areas is believed to affect more than 22 million residents.