Officials in the northern Chinese provincial capital of Shijiazhuang has imposed severe restrictions on travel and gatherings to stem an outbreak of infections from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, several media outlets reported.

The South China Morning Post reported Wednesday that the capital of Hebei province, a city of 11 million people located about 185 miles northeast of Beijing, was placed on lockdown on Wednesday after 63 cases were confirmed. The BBC said 120 new cases were confirmed on Thursday, 85% of all the cases reported in the country.

Schools were closed, bus service and air passenger flights to and from the city were suspended, residents were barred from leaving the city and resident of the Gaocheng district were not permitted to leave that area.

The reported infections are the highest China has seen in more than five months.

The restrictions come only weeks before Chinese New Year, when travel is common in the country as family members visit each other.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus was first identified in 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, about 550 miles south of Shijiazhuang. Governmental officials were criticized for – among other things – allowing travel, particularly international, to and from Wuhan following Chinese New Year.

“Right now, Hebei faces a serious situation to get the pandemic under control and our responsibilities are heavy,” National Health Commission Director Ma Xiaowei said before a meeting with Hebei officials on Tuesday, the South China Morning Post reported.

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