More than a dozen Chinese cities are grappling with a spate of Covid-19 outbreaks driven by Omicron sub-variants, leading to widespread lockdowns and mass quarantines of millions that could exacerbate China’s slumping economy.
Just days after the Chinese economy reported its worst quarterly performance in more than two years, officials have shown no sign of abandoning the “zero Covid” policy that has turned social and economic life in the country upside down. The outbreaks were relatively small, a few hundred cases at most in most places. But Chinese officials, acting on the orders of the country’s leader Xi Jinping, are doing everything they can to eradicate outbreaks soon after they occur.
About 264 million people in 41 cities are currently either partially or completely shut down or living under other measures, analysts at Nomura, the Bank of Japan, wrote in a note Monday. Last week, the figure was about 247 million in 31 cities, they said.
On Tuesday, China’s National Health Commission reported 699 new cases of domestically transmitted infections, including cases in the capital Beijing. About a third were in western Gansu province, where authorities in the provincial capital of Lanzhou extended a temporary lockdown for some of its four million residents.
Experts say China’s “zero Covid” policy will become increasingly difficult to enforce as newer variants of the coronavirus become more transmissible. China has discovered at least 10 different Omicron subvariants since the northern city of Xi’an first reported cases of the Omicron variant BA.5 on July 6, according to Yicai, a financial news website supported by the Chinese government.
At least 2,000 tourists were stranded this weekend in Beihai, a popular resort town in southern Guangxi province. Authorities have imposed a surprising lockdown there after detecting more than 700 locally transmitted cases in the past week.
An hour by boat south of Beihai, tourists visiting Weizhou Island, home to dozens of luxury resorts, were required to undergo mandatory tests. On Sundays, officials closed cinemas, chess rooms, massage parlors and bars.
In the northern port city of Tianjin, a round of massive tests was ordered on Monday for the city’s 12 million residents after two local infections. Authorities closed a number of public places, including bars, and ordered kindergartens to close for three days.
Shanghai, still reeling from a grueling lockdown that lasted for months, also ordered another round of mass testing in many of the boroughs on Monday.