China locks down central city after three Covid-19 cases

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

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - The central Chinese city of Yuzhou in Henan province has been locked down as part of the country’s “zero-Covid” strategy after three asymptomatic cases were found there.

Yuzhou, with 1.1 million residents, had announced that from Monday (Jan 3) night, all were required to stay home to control the spread of the virus, after the discovery of the infections in the past few days. 

People “must not go out”, according to a statement on Monday, while all communities will set up “sentinels and gates to strictly implement epidemic prevention and control measures”.

The city, 700 km south-west of Beijing, had already announced that it was stopping bus and taxi services and closing shopping malls, museums and tourist attractions. Vehicles were banned from Yuzhou’s roads unless they have clearance from the authorities.

“So far, the source of the virus is unknown,” authorities in Xuchang city, which has jurisdiction over Yuzhou, said yesterday (Tue).

“To curb and quash the epidemic within the shortest amount of time is a high-priority political task facing all officials and people in the city,” they added.

Beijing has pursued a zero-Covid approach with tight border restrictions and targeted lockdowns since the virus was first detected. But the strategy has come under pressure with a series of recent local outbreaks.

China on Tuesday (Jan 4) reported 175 new Covid-19 cases,  including five in Henan province and eight more in a separate cluster linked to a garment factory in eastern Ningbo city in Zhejiang province.

China is keen to keep outbreaks under control ahead of the Feb 4-20 Winter Olympics, to be held in Beijing and Hebei province, as well as the Communist Party’s once-every-five-years congress expected later in the year.

The curbs in Yuzhou are similar to those imposed for nearly two weeks in the industrial hub of Xi’an in Shaanxi province.

In Xi’an, new cases have shown signs of slowing this week. But authorities still demanded that officials “strictly and properly” implement the curbs. 

“We’d rather widen our identification of groups at risk than to overlook a single person,” said Mr Liu Guozhong, chief of the Communist Party in Shaanxi province, of which Xi’an is the capital.

Xi’an reported 95 locally transmitted cases on Monday, up from 90 the day before but lower than the 150 cases or more per day during the Dec 25-31 period. It has over 1,700 cases since Dec 9. 

Local authorities deemed to have failed in preventing virus outbreaks in China are often fired or punished, prompting a series of ever-stricter responses from provincial governments as they try to stamp out any cases quickly.

In Xi'an, two senior Communist Party officials were removed from their posts over their "insufficient rigour in preventing and controlling the outbreak".

And last month, China's disciplinary body announced that dozens of officials were punished for failure to prevent the outbreak in the city.

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