China space programme hit by coronavirus outbreak as rocket work stops

21-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

The coronavirus outbreak in northern China has hit the country’s space programme, halting development of a rocket to launch satellites into orbit, according to the state-backed company behind the project.

Expace Technology, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation, said rvery member of the testing team for the Kuaizhou 1A orbital launch rocket had been placed in an “emergency state of semi-lockdown”.

“According to regulations from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre and the local government, work related to the fifth Kuaizhou 1A rocket has been suspended,” the company said on its WeChat social media account on Tuesday.

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The team is based at Jiuquan in the northwestern province of Gansu, where Covid-19 cases were reported after a visit by travellers who tested positive for the virus.

A day earlier, 17 locally acquired symptomatic cases were identified, most of them in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and neighbouring Gansu province, the National Health Commission said on Wednesday.

Four asymptomatic community cases were also reported in Gansu and Yunnan province. They will not be added to the official tally unless they develop symptoms.

Hotels have been arranged for the Kuaizhou 1A testing team, with specified meal times to prevent them coming into contact with the public. Volunteers from the team have also organised mass testing and temperature checks.

Expace, which operates and develops rockets, was established to grow China’s commercial aerospace industry. The Kuaizhou 1A, a small solid-fuelled carrier rocket, has already launched several Earth observation satellites.

The latest Kuaizhou 1A rocket, measuring 20 metres (65 feet) long with a launch mass of 30 tonnes, was assembled and waiting for a launch date, Expace said in September.

The coronavirus infections are part of a series of community cases across the country detected after a retired couple in their 60s travelled to Xian, the provincial capital of Shaanxi in northwestern China, as well as the Gansu cities of Zhangye, Jiuquan and Jiayuguan. They also visited Ejin banner in western Inner Mongolia, the Shaanxi health commission said on Monday.

It is unclear how the couple were infected.

They tested negative for the virus on October 8 in Shanghai before they started their trip and again on October 13 in Inner Mongolia. Their tests two days later in Jiayuguan had “abnormal” results and they finally tested positive in Xian on Saturday.

Before then, authorities had reported just one or two cases a day nationally, with most confined to Inner Mongolia. But there were nine cases nationwide on Tuesday and 17 on Wednesday, with infections over a broader geographical area.

The cases stretched from Guizhou and Yunnan in the southwest, to Shaanxi and Ningxia in the northwest and in Beijing in the north.

Health authorities said the couple’s travelling companions, another two couples and a man, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday and were treated in Xian.

And a man identified as Ai, who rented a car with the Shanghai couple for six days, tested positive in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

The infected Beijing resident in the latest count travelled to the capital by train on Friday from Gansu province and had slept in a bunk close to Ai.

Ai was also linked to the patient in Ningxia, the Gansu health commission said on Wednesday.

“Various places have recently reported positive tests from tourists and their close contacts travelling from other provinces,” the Beijing health commission said. “The transmission chain is far-reaching, and our city has also had such cases. We would like to remind citizens that we cannot be lax with our control measures.”


Category: China

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