China moves to stamp out Covid outbreaks

SHANGHAI, China (AFP) — China recorded more than 2,000 Covid cases on Monday, its highest level for a month, as officials imposed new lockdowns and restrictions to stop outbreaks from spreading to the capital ahead of the Communist Party Congress.

Although the latest case numbers are small by global standards, Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy means any outbreaks must be immediately eradicated.

President Xi Jinping, who is expected to secure a historic third term in office, has championed the policy, and any significant outbreak ahead of Sunday’s Congress opening would prove highly embarrassing for the party.

In Shanghai, tens of thousands of people were under lockdown on Monday, after multiple neighborhoods were suddenly closed off over the weekend, following the discovery on Friday of 23 new infections.

Over 2,100 households in the financial hub were affected because of just one infection on Sunday, according to a government briefing.

Residents reacted in shock as green fences were erected around buildings, recalling the city’s harsh two-month lockdown in spring, which saw widespread complaints over shortages of food and medical treatment.

As of Monday, Shanghai has nine “medium-risk” locked-down neighborhoods across six districts, authorities said, but there are likely many more lockdowns of individual buildings that have not been announced officially.

“After hearing about some situations, most people feel that it seems to have returned to April and May,” said one resident surnamed Li.

Travel chaos

Other Chinese cities were also affected.

On Friday, Yongji city in northern Shanxi province ordered a two-day lockdown of its three million residents after cases were found in a neighboring city — despite Yongji itself recording no new infections at all.

Some travelers arriving in Beijing reported receiving a notification on their Covid tracking app which required them to undergo multiple PCR tests to access public spaces — even though they had come from areas without cases.

And some Beijing residents who had travelled during last week’s long public holiday were stranded after receiving a Covid tracking app notification which prevented them from boarding trains or flights back to the city.

Many left desperate pleas for help on the Weibo page of the official Beijing citizens’ helpline, but these comments were censored by Monday.

Several tourist hotspots imposed lockdowns last week, including Haikou city in tropical Hainan province and Xishuangbanna in the southern province of Yunnan, where hundreds of angry tourists were stranded at an airport after flights were abruptly cancelled.

Northwestern China’s Xinjiang also banned all people from leaving the region last week after an outbreak was detected, as local authorities made a rare public admission of failure in controlling the virus.

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