Chinese city of 1.2 million people locked down after three Covid cases emerge

Public transport halted and cars banned in Yuzhou as China pursues zero-Covid strategy ahead of Winter Olympics

Three asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 were enough for Chinese authorities to lock down a city of almost 1.2 million people on Monday, joining 13 million others in locked down Xi’an, where local authorities have asked for restrictions to be tightened even further.

Beijing is holding on to its zero-Covid strategy ahead of the forthcoming Winter Olympics next month, and with local officials facing sanctions or sackings over outbreaks, cases have prompted increasingly strict responses.

Authorities in Yuzhou, Henan province, announced the lockdown on Monday evening, ordering all residents to stay inside, and residential communities to post sentries at gates. Different parts of the city have varying rules – some are allowing people to enter but not exit while others allow neither.

Public transport has been suspended and no cars are allowed on the road except for epidemic response vehicles, and all shops, entertainment and leisure venues have been closed. Only businesses that are “guaranteeing the supply of daily life materials” can operate.

Yuzhou’s locked down population join Xi’an in Shaanxi province, where a harsh lockdown has been in place for almost two weeks, including the requirement for negative tests before an individual can seek medical care. The city has recorded more than 1,700 cases since early December, and put tens of thousands in quarantine. All positive cases are taken to hospitals for treatment and isolation. While the strict response had drawn some concern and complaints including about food shortages, on Tuesday Communist party authorities demanded local officials “strictly and properly” implement restrictions.

“The various work that needs to be done must only be strengthened,” said Liu Guozhong, the provincial head of the party in Shaanxi, of which Xi’an is its capital.

The epidemic control effort is at a pivotal moment, Liu said. “We’d rather widen our identification of groups at risk than to overlook a single person,” he was quoted as saying in an article published by the Xi’an government on Tuesday.

He said no one should be overlooked during mass testing in key Xi’an areas and “household doors” should be closely watched in rural parts of the city to make sure people are complying with travel curbs.

The swift and extreme response in Yuzhou drew some concern online, with some commenters questioning the need to go so far over a handful of cases, but others were largely supportive, in line with apparent broad support for China’s continued policy of stamping out outbreaks.

While most of the world is open and operating with huge case numbers, including some countries that previously pursued zero-Covid strategies, China has stuck with its policy of keeping the virus at bay, putting increasing pressure on local officials as they battle sporadic outbreaks.

In Xi’an, two senior Communist party officials in the northern city were removed from their posts over their “insufficient rigour in preventing and controlling the outbreak”. In Guangxi, officials paraded pandemic rule-breakers through the public streets, with placards around their necks. And last month, China’s disciplinary body announced that dozens of officials were punished for failure to prevent the outbreak in the city.

China reported a further 175 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, including five in Henan province and eight more in a separate cluster linked to a garment factory in the eastern city of Ningbo. Officials did not say what variant the outbreak involved.

Although the reported cases are low compared with elsewhere in the world, new coronavirus infections in recent weeks have reached a high not seen in the country since March 2020.

Additional reporting by Xiaoqian Zhu


Helen Davidson and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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