China, racing to control one of its worst outbreaks in a single city since the beginning of the pandemic, has put in place a sweeping lockdown and mass testing drives, making clear that the country has no intention of abandoning its “zero Covid” policy.
Even as a growing number of countries turn away from hard lockdowns, believing their economic and human costs to be too great, the Chinese government has continued to implement harsh restrictions.
The city of Xi’an, in northwestern China, recorded 1,117 infections between Dec. 9 and Dec. 29, according to the government. In response, officials locked down the city of 13 million on Dec. 22, closing schools and most businesses and largely barring people from leaving home.
They ordered daily testing for residents of several districts, setting up nearly 12,000 sampling stations and deploying more than 160,000 workers. Other workers were ordered to spray the city with clouds of disinfectant for a “full-scale” deep cleaning.
Officials have attributed the spike in Xi’an to the Delta variant. China has announced only a handful of Omicron cases.
Xi’an is one of the largest Chinese cities to be locked down since the authorities sealed off Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first discovered, in January 2020. It is a popular tourist destination, known as the home of the ancient Terra Cotta Warriors.
Even in a country where abrupt lockdowns and strict epidemic-control rules have become the norm, the severe measures have prompted concern. On social media, residents have complained of having trouble ordering food online. The hashtag “Grocery shopping in Xi’an is hard” has been viewed 300 million times on Weibo, a social media platform. Censors deleted some of those posts, but officials acknowledged on Wednesday that the escalation of restrictions had contributed to logistics and staffing problems.
The number of infections in Xi’an, though high for China, is minuscule compared with caseloads elsewhere. New York City, for example, recorded nearly 40,000 new cases on Wednesday alone. But China, which is virtually the last country still trying to eliminate the virus rather than live with it, has rejected any suggestion of loosening its controls.
The lockdown comes as Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympics in February amid escalating geopolitical tensions between China and the West. And the Chinese Communist Party is eager to ensure that the Games go smoothly.
Officials elsewhere in China have adopted extreme measures to control the virus, too. In the southern region of Guangxi, the police on Tuesday paraded four people accused of violating epidemic restrictions through the streets, with boards displaying their photos and names. The practice was quickly denounced by state-run media outlets, which noted that such public shaming is illegal in China.