Three asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 were enough for Chinese authorities to lock down a city of almost 1.2 million people on Monday.
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.
In Yuzhou, Henan province, authorities 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. The city of 13 million has recorded more than 1,600 cases since early December, and put tens of thousands in quarantine. All positive cases are taken to hospitals for treatment and isolation.
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 another 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