Lockdown restrictions have been tightened in the Chinese city of Xi’an, which is battling the largest community outbreak the country has seen since the initial months of the pandemic when China brought thousands of daily infections under control.
Authorities reported 162 new community infections on Monday, up from 158 on Sunday. All but 10 of Monday’s new cases were reported in Shaanxi province, where 13 million residents of the capital Xi’an have been locked down for five days.
The new case number marks the highest count of local symptomatic infections since the daily bulletin provided by the National Health Commission started to classify asymptomatic carriers separately from end-March, 2020. On Saturday, the country recorded the highest daily rise in local cases in 21 months as infections more than doubled in Xi’an. In total there have been 635 confirmed coronavirus cases during the 9 to 26 December period.
A fourth round of mandatory testing day was under way in Xi’an – home to the world-famous Terracotta Warriors - as hundreds of health workers were deployed to detect new infections in a bid to stamp out virus spread.
The city, a two hour flight southwest of Beijing, also launched a disinfection campaign, with staffers spraying pathogen-killing solutions on surfaces of roads and buildings. Residents are advised not to touch plants after the disinfection.
About 3,000 stations were set up to carry out testing on all residents, according to state media. More than 45,000 medical volunteers have also joined efforts to curb the spread of the virus, according to the Shaanxi provincial government.
Authorities were investigating 17,527 residents who have been identified as close contacts, while 41,671 people are serving mandatory hotel quarantine. State media reported medical staff at testing centres suffered from swollen hands after conducting hundreds of tests in the cold.
The main causes of the rise in numbers were more cases being detected during mandatory testing, and the spread of new clusters in more districts, Zhang Yi, Director of the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Institute of the Shaanxi Provincial Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.
Authorities have deployed one security personnel for every 10 residents in 283 allocated “closed areas” in the city, where a “door-to-door” service is provided and no residents are allowed to leave their homes. Only one person from each household in another 229 “controlled areas” is allowed to leave their homes every other day for two hours to buy daily necessities, according to regulations issued by Shaanxi authorities.
Authorities imposed a snap lockdown on Xi’an’s residents on Thursday, suspending means of transport to and from the city except for emergencies requiring official approval and mostly confining residents to their homes.
The rising numbers triggered some parts of the city to implement even tighter restrictions on residents on Monday. Residents at the Xi’an National Hi-tech Industries Development Zone from Monday morning were only allowed to leave their homes to undergo mandatory testing or receive medical treatment, with only one designated member of the family being allowed to buy necessities once every three days, according to local media.
Chinese medical expert and former delegate to the National People’s Congress Zhang Boli told state media CNWest on Sunday he believed it was “entirely possible” that the outbreak would be under control by late January.
The lockdown is the first time China had implemented such severe measures since 2020, as authorities continue to doggedly pursue a “zero Covid” approach to stamp out all local infections ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.