China begins citywide disinfection of Xi'an to fight outbreak as cases edge higher

Workers in protective suits at an entrance to a university's residential area under lockdown following a Covid-19 outbreak in Xi'an, on Dec 20, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The northwestern Chinese city of Xi'an has begun widespread disinfection measures since late on Sunday (Dec 26) to counter a jump in Covid-19 infections that forced the lockdown of 13 million residents.

As the lockdown entered its fifth day, the authorities are spraying disinfectants across the city and asking residents to close windows and avoid touching architectural surfaces and vegetation on streets.

The move came as daily infections spiked to around 150 on Sunday and Monday, as health authorities seek to uncover more cases with a fourth round of mass testing.

Dongyan Jin, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the mass disinfection of outdoor air and surfaces seemed unnecessary given the low risk of people catching Covid-19 from outdoor surfaces or air with so few people outside.

“This is shooting mosquitoes with cannon,” said Jin, although he believes disinfection of indoor surfaces, especially in places visit by infected people, is necessary.

Xi'an residents cannot leave the city without approval from employers or local authorities. 

Since Dec 23, households have been allowed to send only one person to shop for necessities every two days. Other family members may not leave home unless they have essential jobs or urgent matters to attend to, approved by employers or communities.

On Monday, Xi'an authorities urged residents to stay home except for having their sample collected in a new round of citywide testing.

Authorities have not announced any infection caused by the Omicron variant in Xi'an, where there have been 635 confirmed coronavirus cases during the Dec 9-26 period.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are set to kick off in Beijing on Feb 4. China on Monday reported a total of 162 domestic Covid-19 infections, with 150 of those from Xi'an, the highest daily caseload since Jan 22.

A surge of that scale is rarely seen in China, which is the only major country in the world still aggressively trying to eliminate the virus via closed borders and stringent domestic curbs under what is called a Zero Covid strategy.

The Xi'an outbreak, which is being blamed on the Delta variant, underscores the difficulty China faces in returning domestic infections to zero as the virus mutates to forms more capable of escaping through stringent containment measures.

Xianyang city and Weinan city, also in the Shaanxi province where Xi'an is based, each reported one local symptomatic case for Sunday. Local infections were also found in Guangxi region and the provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong and Sichuan.

The nation has also found a handful of Omicron infections among travellers from other countries but has not seen the even more infectious and immunity-evading variant spreading into the community.

The authorities locked down Xi'an last week on concerns that the virus had been spreading under the radar with many of the transmission routes unknown.

Even so, local media quoted Dr Zhang Boli, a senior medical adviser to the Chinese government on Covid-19, as saying it is still possible to get the outbreak under control by the end of January, before the Olympics.

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