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Coronavirus spread halts Chinese space programme as team members catch infection

China launches an earth observation satellite, Gaofen-12, aboard a Long March-4C rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in 2019 (Photo: Zheng Taotao/Xinhua/IANS)

Coronavirus outbreak in northern China has halted its space programme, as every member of the testing team for the Kuaizhou 1A orbital launch rocket has been placed in an “emergency state of semi-lockdown”.

The South China Morning Post has reported that China's project related to the development of a rocket to launch satellites into space has come to a standstill by the spread of Covid-19.

The information was released by the State-backed company Expace Technology, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation, on its social media.

“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.

For four straight days China has reported local infections across a number of cities. Most of the coronavirus cases have been reported in northern and north-west China in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and the provinces of Gansu and Yunnan.

The space team is based at Jiuquan in the north-west province of Gansu. It has now been put up in hotels to prevent further spread of infection.

The company had developed the rocket and was waiting for a launch date. China is developing a commercial rocket that can carry 20 satellites.

China is pursuing an ambitious space programme. A few days back it sent three astronauts on a six-month space mission to the new Tiangong space station from its Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert.

It had also recently fired a hypersonic missile in August this year taking the US intelligence agencies by surprise.

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