Los Angeles Times

China locks down city amid rise in virus cases

Restrictio­ns on Xian’s 13 million residents come as Beijing gears up to host Olympics.

- Associated press

BEIJING — China put a city of 13 million people into lockdown Thursday to stamp out an increase in coronaviru­s infections as the country doubles down on its “zero tolerance” policy just weeks before it is set to host the Winter Olympics.

The restrictio­ns in the northeaste­rn city of Xian took effect at midnight Wednesday, with no word on when they might be lifted. They are some of the harshest since China imposed a strict lockdown last year on more than 11 million people in and around the city of Wuhan, where the coronaviru­s was first detected in late 2019.

One person from each household will be allowed out every two days to buy household necessitie­s, a government order said. Other family members are required to stay at home, although the rule was not being rigorously enforced, according to some social media posts. People who happened to be staying in hotels became stuck.

There was no word on whether the cases involved the new Omicron variant or the far more common Delta variant. China has recorded just seven Omicron cases: four in the southern manufactur­ing center of Guangzhou, two in the southern city of Changsha and one in the northern port of Tianjin.

Although the latest outbreak is nearly 575 miles southwest of the Olympic host city of Beijing, any sign that the pandemic might be worsening in China will raise questions about whether and how it will manage to welcome thousands of athletes, officials and journalist­s when the Winter Games open on Feb. 4.

On the one hand, there is a tremendous amount of national pride and investment riding on the Olympics and few would want a cancellati­on, postponeme­nt or dramatic reimaginin­g at this late stage. On the other, Chinese authoritie­s have adopted strict measures

throughout the pandemic under their policy of seeking to stamp out every last case, and it’s hard to see how welcoming so many people from abroad will square with that strategy.

That zero tolerance policy, which has led to frequent lockdowns, universal masking

and mass testing, has not been entirely successful. It has resulted in massive disruption­s to travel and trade, but Beijing credits it with largely containing the spread of the coronaviru­s. Overall, China has reported 4,849 deaths and 113,299 cases of COVID-19.

Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, a major center of industry and a repository of imperial relics, including the famous terra cotta warriors, reported 63 locally transmitte­d cases Thursday, pushing the city’s total to at least 211 over the last week.

China has also been dealing with a substantia­l outbreak in several cities in the eastern province of Zhejiang near Shanghai, although isolation measures there have been more narrowly targeted.

“We are not receiving any new guests, and no present guests are allowed to leave the hotel,” said a receptioni­st at the Hanting Hotel in Xian, who gave only her surname, Li.

Staff and guests are required to be tested every two days, Li said. “There will be an impact on our business, and we have no idea how long it will last.”

The owner of a local bookshop said he had closed 10 days before, “fearing the worsening of the epidemic situation.”

“I am now staying at home watching television,” said the owner, who gave only his surname, Xiao.

Movement outside his compound required permission from the local neighborho­od committee, he said. “I think the situation will get better eventually, and I don’t worry at all because we have the government behind us,” he said.

 ?? Li Yibo Xinhua ?? PEOPLE line up for coronaviru­s testing in Xian, China. With the Winter Games just weeks away, the government is determined to stem an increase in infections.
Li Yibo Xinhua PEOPLE line up for coronaviru­s testing in Xian, China. With the Winter Games just weeks away, the government is determined to stem an increase in infections.

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