China closes city with 13 million inhabitants before the Olympics – archyde

BEIJING (AP) – China cordoned off a city of 13 million on Thursday to contain a surge in coronavirus infections as the country doubled its “zero tolerance” policy just weeks before hosting the Winter Olympics.

The restrictions in the northeastern city of Xi’an went into effect at midnight on Wednesday with no information on when they might be lifted. They are among the toughest since China last year strictly locked more than 11 million people in and around the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first discovered in late 2019.

A government ordinance states that one person in each household is allowed out every two days to buy household necessities. Other family members were forced to stay at home, even though the rule wasn’t rigorously enforced, according to social media posts. People who happened to be staying in hotels got stuck.

There was no word on whether the new cases were the recently identified variant of Omicron, which appears more contagious and is causing surges in many parts of the world – or the previous version, Delta. China has only reported seven Omicron cases so far, but none in Xi’an.

Although the most recent outbreak is 1,000 kilometers southwest of the Olympic host city of Beijing, any sign that the pandemic in China could worsen will raise the question of whether and how it will take on thousands of athletes, officials and journalists when the Games are in a few Weeks start on February 4th.

On the one hand, there is a tremendous amount of national pride and investment in the Olympics and few would want a cancellation, postponement, or dramatic redesign at this late stage. On the flip side, the Chinese authorities have taken draconian measures throughout the pandemic to stamp out every last case – and it’s hard to imagine how many people from overseas are consistent with that strategy.

This “zero tolerance” policy, which has resulted in frequent bans, universal masking, and mass testing, has not been entirely successful. It has caused massive disruption to travel and trade, but Beijing credits it for largely containing the spread of the virus. In total, China has reported 4,636 deaths and 100,644 cases of COVID-19.

Xi’an – the capital of Shaanxi Province, famed for its imperial relics and a major industrial hub – reported an additional 63 locally transmitted cases on Thursday, bringing the city’s total to at least 211 in the past week.

China is also grappling with a significant coronavirus outbreak in several cities in eastern Zhejiang Province, near Shanghai, despite more targeted isolation measures.

“We do not receive any new guests, and no guests present are allowed to leave the hotel,” said a receptionist at the Hanting Hotel in Xi’an, who only gave her last name, Li.

Employees and guests would need to be tested every two days, Li said. “It’s going to have an impact on 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 worsening”.

“I’m staying at home now and watching TV.” said the owner, who only gave his last name, Xiao.

Movement outside of his premises requires 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.


This story has been corrected to show that Beijing is northeast of Xi’an, not west.


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