More than a dozen Chinese cities are grappling with a spate of Covid-19 outbreaks driven by Omicron subvariants, prompting widespread lockdowns and mass quarantines of millions of people that could worsen China’s slumping economy.
Just days after China’s economy reported its worst quarterly performance in more than two years, officials have shown no sign of abandoning the “zero Covid” policy that has upended social and economic life in the country. The outbreaks have been relatively small, at most a few hundred cases in most places. But Chinese officials, acting on orders from the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, are pulling out all the stops to stamp out outbreaks soon after they emerge.
About 264 million people in 41 cities are currently under full or partial lockdowns or living under other measures, analysts at Nomura, the Japanese bank, wrote in a note on 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 Beijing, the capital. About a third were in the western province of Gansu, where authorities in the provincial capital, Lanzhou, extended a temporary lockdown for some of the four million residents.
Experts say that China’s “zero Covid” policy will be increasingly difficult to maintain as newer coronavirus variants become more transmissible. China has detected 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 backed by the Chinese government.
At least 2,000 tourists found themselves stranded over the weekend in Beihai, a popular beach resort town in southern Guangxi province. Authorities there imposed a surprise lockdown after detecting more than 700 locally transmitted cases during the past week.
An hour south of Beihai by boat, tourists visiting Weizhou Island, home to dozens of luxury resorts, were ordered to undergo mandatory testing. On Sunday, officials shut cinemas, chess rooms, massage parlors and bars.
In the northern port city of Tianjin, a round of mass testing was ordered on Monday for the city’s 12 million residents after two local infections. Authorities closed some public places including bars, and ordered kindergartens to shut for three days.
Shanghai, still reeling from a grueling lockdown that lasted months, also ordered yet another round of mass testing in many of the city’s districts Monday.