China closes third city after COVID-19 outbreak, increasing those affected to 20 million

A woman gets a PCR test in Beijing on January 10th.Andrea Verdelli / Getty Images

A third Chinese city has barricaded its residents due to a COVID-19 outbreak, raising the number of restricted to their homes in China to about 20 million people.

The shutdown of Anyang, home to 5.5 million people, was announced late Monday after two cases of the omicron variant were reported. Residents are not allowed to go out and shops have been ordered closed except those selling necessities.

Another 13 million people have been detained inside Xi’an for nearly three weeks, and 1.1 million more in Yuzhou for more than a week. It was not clear how long the shutdown of Anyang would last, as it was announced as a measure to facilitate mass testing of residents, which is the standard procedure in China’s strategy to identify and isolate infected people as soon as possible.

The shutdowns are the widest since the closure of Wuhan and most of the rest of Hubei province in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Since then, China’s approach has evolved to target smaller areas affected by outbreaks of lockdowns.

The approach to the Winter Olympics, which open on February 4 in Beijing, and the emergence of the omicron have brought back city-wide shutdowns in an attempt to eradicate eruptions and prevent them from spreading to other parts of China.

An official at the Beijing Olympics in charge of disease control, Huang Chun, said the organizers are counting on the cooperation between athletes and officials to prevent an outbreak that could affect participation.

“If the mass cluster transmission happens, it will definitely affect the games and the schedule,” Huang said. “The worst-case scenario, if it happens, is independent of human will, so we leave our options open.”

In Hong Kong, the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, announced the closure of kindergartens and primary schools after reports of infections in students. Schools must close on Friday and remain closed until at least the lunar New Year holiday in the first week of February.

The semi-autonomous Chinese city has tightened pandemic-related restrictions in recent days after discovering that the omicron variant had spread to people arriving from abroad.

The Anyang omicron cases are believed to be linked to two other cases found on Saturday in Tianjin. This seems to be the first time omicron has spread on the Chinese mainland in addition to people arriving from abroad and their immediate contacts.

Anyang is an important archeological site, the ancient capital of the Shang Dynasty, and where the earliest Chinese writing is found on what are called oracle bones.

The city said unnecessary vehicles are banned from the streets in a blocking notice shared online by state media late Monday. The number of cases is still relatively low, with 58 new ones confirmed from early Monday to 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Tianjin, a major port less than an hour from Beijing by high-speed train, has only locked affected areas as it performs mass tests. As of noon Tuesday, 97 people had tested positive in the city with 14 million people: 49 with symptoms, 15 without symptoms and 33 awaiting further verification.

Xi’an and Yuzhou are both fighting the delta variant, and neither of them has reported any omicron cases.

More than 2,000 people have been infected in Xi’an in China’s largest outbreak since the first in Wuhan. The old capital is a popular tourist stop, home to the Terracotta Warriors ruins and also a Samsung computer chip factory.

Authorities have credited the shutdown for limiting the spread, though it disrupted life and emergency medical treatment for some. The city reported 13 new cases in the past 24-hour period, down from more than a hundred a day at the peak of the eruption.

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