China orders more than a million people near Beijing to stay in their homes over a handful of coronavirus cases just a week before the Winter Olympics
- Around 1.2 million people in Xiong’an New Area are now under a strict lockdown
- Restrictions appear to have been introduced by stealth with no announcements
- The restrictions kicked in on Tuesday, when five Covid cases were noted nearby
- With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing
China has ordered more than a million people near Beijing to stay in their homes over a handful of coronavirus cases, just a week before the Winter Olympics begins.
Authorities locked down the area that neighbours the capital, but made no public announcement about the fresh restrictions.
Around 1.2 million people in Xiong’an New Area – a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing – are no longer allowed to enter or leave their residential compounds, local virus prevention staff confirmed to AFP on Friday.
While recent lockdowns in China were publicly announced and widely reported by state media, the Xiong’an restrictions appear to have been introduced by stealth with no announcements – sparking confusion among some residents of the area.
‘We expect this (lockdown) to last around a week, but the exact timing is uncertain,’ said virus prevention staff in Xiong County, one of three counties in the area.
Olympic staff wearing protective gear works inside the National Indoor Stadium, venue of the ice hockey tournaments of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, on Friday. Beijing is desperately trying to keep Covid-19 numbers down ahead of the games next week
The restrictions kicked in on Tuesday, they added – the same day authorities in another district noted five confirmed coronavirus infections had been found to date.
With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing.
Cities such as Xi’an and Anyang have experienced hard lockdowns in recent weeks, with residents confined to their homes until multiple rounds of mass testing are completed and the outbreak suppressed.
Some users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo were seen asking for further information about restrictions, while others questioned the extent of measures.
‘Is there a need? Why can’t we go home if the area is deemed low-risk? Don’t make this one-size-fits-all,’ said a Weibo user this week.
Another said Thursday: ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to go home for the Lunar New Year.’
While there have been a number of national-level ‘New Areas’ across China, Xiong’an stands out with its location personally designated by President Xi Jinping, according to state media.
China, where the coronavirus first emerged, has upheld a strict ‘zero-Covid’ strategy involving targeted lockdowns, tight border controls and mass testing.
Its reported case numbers are tiny in comparison to the rest of the world.
With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing (pictured on Friday)
A month-long lockdown on the megacity of Xi’an was lifted earlier this week after a cluster that grew to more than 2,100 cases – China’s largest outbreak in months – was largely stamped out.
But stubborn flare-ups have persisted, including in Beijing and the nearby port city of Tianjin.
China reported 39 domestic Covid cases on Friday.
The Winter Olympics will be held in a strict ‘closed loop’ bubble that separates everyone involved in the Games from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections leaking out.
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