BEIJING (AP) – China is doubling its efforts to control new virus outbreaks with a lockdown of the northern city of Xi’an’s 13 million residents after a surge in coronavirus cases.
The move comes just weeks before the country hosts the Beijing Winter Olympics, about 1,000 kilometers (6210 miles) west.
It was not known whether the virus was the newly ascending omicron variant or the much more common delta. China has only recorded seven Omicron cases – four in the southern manufacturing center of Guangzhou, two in the southern city of Changsha, and one in the northern port of Tianjin.
China is also grappling with a significant outbreak in several cities in eastern Zhejiang Province, near Shanghai, despite more targeted isolation measures.
Authorities have taken tough pandemic control measures to zero new transmissions, resulting in frequent bans, universal masking and mass testing. Although the policy was not entirely successful and led to massive disruptions in travel and trade, Beijing credits it with largely containing the spread of the virus.
The restrictions in Xi’an are among the toughest since China strictly shut down more than 11 million people in and around downtown Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first discovered in late 2019, in 2020.
Xi’an reported an additional 63 locally transmitted cases Thursday, bringing the city’s total to at least 211 over the past week. Xi’an is the capital of Shaanxi Province, famous for its imperial relics and a major industrial center.
“We do not receive any new guests and no current guests are allowed to leave the hotel,” said a receptionist at the Hanting Hotel in Xi’an, who only gave her last name, Li.
“Including the guests, we have to do a test every two days,” said Li. “This will affect our business and we have no idea how long it will take.”
The owner of a local bookstore said it had closed 10 days earlier “for fear of the epidemic situation worsening”.
“I’ll stay at home now and watch TV,” said the owner, who only gave his last name, Xiao.
Movement outside of his premises required permission from the local neighborhood committee, he said. “I think the situation will get better at some point, and I’m not worried at all because we have the government behind us,” said Xiao.
A government ordinance states that one person in each household is allowed out every two days to buy household necessities. It went into effect on Wednesday at midnight with no word being known about when it might be lifted.
China has reported 4,636 deaths out of a total of 100,644 cases from COVID-19.
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