Flights cancelled, schools closed as China tries to stamp out new Covid-19 outbreak

Airports in the affected regions have cancelled hundreds of flights.
Airports in the affected regions have cancelled hundreds of flights.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - The authorities in China cancelled hundreds of flights, closed schools and ramped up mass testing on Thursday (Oct 21) to try and stamp out a new Covid-19 outbreak linked to a group of tourists.

Beijing has maintained a relentless zero-Covid approach with strict border closures and targeted lockdowns, even as other countries tentatively try to ease restrictions.

Domestic outbreaks have largely been eliminated, but as China logged a fifth straight day of new cases – mostly in the northern and north-western areas – the authorities beefed up coronavirus controls.

The latest outbreak was linked to an elderly couple who were in a group of several tourists. They started in Shanghai before flying to Xi’an, Gansu province and Inner Mongolia.

Dozens of cases have since been linked to their travel, with close contacts in at least five provinces and regions, including the capital Beijing.

In response, local governments have rolled out mass testing and closed scenic spots and tourist sites, schools and entertainment venues in affected areas, and also imposed targeted lockdowns of housing compounds.

Some regions including Lanzhou – a city of about four million people in north-western China – have told residents not to leave unless necessary. Those who need to leave must present a negative Covid-19 test.

Airports in the affected regions have cancelled hundreds of flights, according to data from aviation tracker VariFlight. Around 60 per cent of flights to the two main airports in Xi’an and Lanzhou have been cancelled.

In a notice published on Monday, Erenhot in Inner Mongolia said travel in and out of the city was banned and residents should not leave their housing compounds.

Alxa Left Banner, a small administrative division in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, said late on Wednesday it had imposed a lockdown and would test its population of 180,000.

​The lockdowns are small compared with the one seen during early last year in the much larger, denser city of Wuhan.

Also on Wednesday, state-owned tabloid Global Times cautioned that the new virus cases in Inner Mongolia were likely to affect coal imports from Mongolia because of supply chain disruptions.

There were 13 new domestic cases reported on Thursday, China’s National Health Commission said.

Hebei, the city of Xingtai, about a six-hour drive from Zhangjiakou city, which will co-host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games with Beijing, reported two local asymptomatic infections, which China classifies separately from confirmed cases, for Wednesday.

In north-western Gansu province, where nine local confirmed cases have been reported in the past week, primary and high schools in the provincial capital of Lanzhou, as well as in one county in Jiuquan city, have suspended offline classes.

Jiuquan, where the state frequently launches rockets, has yet to detect any local cases, but the authorities have halted cultural events such as exhibitions.

Expace, a state-backed aerospace firm, said on Tuesday that it had postponed work on a mission involving the Kuaizhou 1-A rocket in Jiuquan as part of epidemic control.

Staff were required to enter a "semi-lockdown" mode and avoid contact with the outside.

Officials have not disclosed how people became infected in the latest cases.

Many of the infected had travelled across provinces before their diagnoses, prompting a flurry of cities to track and test their close contacts.