by Ken Moritsugu
BEIJING (AP) — A third Chinese city has locked down its residents because of the COVID-19 outbreak, leaving nearly 20 million confined to their homes in China.
The lockdown was announced in Anyang, home of 5.5 million people, late Monday after two cases of the omicron type were reported. Residents are not allowed to go out and shops have been ordered to be closed except those selling essential commodities.
Another 13 million people have been locked up in Xi’an for nearly three weeks, and more than 1.1 million people in Yuzhou for more than a week. It was unclear how long Anyang’s lockdown would last, as it was announced as a measure to facilitate mass testing of residents, which is China’s effort to identify and isolate infected people as quickly as possible. Strategy has standard procedure.
The lockdowns are the most extensive since the pandemic shut down the rest of Wuhan and Hubei province in early 2020. Since then, China’s approach has evolved into targeting smaller areas hit by the outbreak of lockdown.
The approach of the Winter Olympics, which begins on February 4 in Beijing, and the emergence of Omicron has brought back city-wide lockdowns to contain outbreaks and prevent them from spreading to other parts of China.
Huang Chun, a Beijing Olympics official responsible for disease control, said organizers are counting on the cooperation of athletes and officials to prevent an outbreak that could stifle participation.
“If there is a large-scale cluster transmission, it will certainly affect the Games and the program,” Huang said. “Worst case scenario, if it does happen, is independent of man’s will, so we leave our options open.”
In Hong Kong, city leader Carrie Lam announced the closure of kindergartens and primary schools after students reported infections. Schools are to be closed until Friday and at least the first week of February until the Lunar New Year holiday.
The semi-autonomous Chinese city has tightened restrictions related to the pandemic in recent days, as the Omicron variant spread beyond people arriving from overseas.
The Anyang Omicron cases are believed to be linked to two other cases detected on Saturday in Tianjin. This appears to be the first time that omicron has spread beyond people arriving from abroad and their immediate contacts in mainland China.
Anyang is an important archaeological site, the ancient capital of the Shang dynasty and where the earliest Chinese writings were found, called oracle bones.
Non-essential vehicles have been banned on the roads in a lockdown notice shared online by state media late on Monday, the city said. The number of cases is still relatively small, with 58 new confirmed cases from early Monday until 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Tianjin, a major port that is less than an hour from Beijing by high-speed rail, has only locked down affected areas as it conducts large-scale testing. As of Tuesday afternoon, 97 people in the city of 14 million people had tested positive: 49 with symptoms, 15 without symptoms and 33 awaiting further verification.
Xi’an and Yuzhou are both battling the delta variant and neither have reported any Omicron cases.
More than 2,000 people have been infected in Xi’an in China’s biggest outbreak since the initial one in Wuhan. The ancient capital is a popular tourist destination that is home to the Terracotta Warriors ruins and also a Samsung computer chip factory.
Officials attribute the lockdown to slowing the spread, although it has disrupted lives and emergency medical treatment for some. The city reported 13 new cases in the latest 24-hour period, up more than a hundred in a day at the peak of the outbreak.