GLOBAL – China is imposing a new round of lockdowns as vacation hotspots become ensnared in its drive to suppress Covid-19, with parts of Tibet’s capital shut down and thousands of tourists stuck on the tropical island of Hainan.
After living most of the pandemic virtually virus-free, the mountainous region of Tibet reported an outbreak that rapidly grew from four to 22 cases, according to local authorities. The second-largest city of Shigatse was locked down for three days, along with areas deemed mid- and high-risk for the virus in Lhasa, the capital.
The crackdown in Tibet — which had only a single Covid case, back in 2020, before Sunday and has emerged as a population vacation spot for Chinese — comes as authorities try to stamp out a larger outbreak in Hainan, an island province in China’s south known for its beaches and duty-free shopping.
China reported a total of 828 local infections for Monday, with 471 coming from Hainan. The national number has doubled since Thursday.
At least four cities on Hainan have been locked down amid an outbreak that’s grown to more than 1,500 cases since the first infections emerged at the start of August. As of Saturday, some 25,000 tourists were stuck in hotels in the beach-side city of Sanya, with flights and other forms of transportation canceled to help contain the spread. Frequent rounds of mass testing are now being undertaken to root out cases, in line with China’s Covid Zero playbook.
Hainan is working to achieve zero new community cases by Friday, officials said, which means eliminating infections found outside of the quarantine system. That’s typically been used as a benchmark throughout China for an easing of Covid controls.
Local media reported a tropical depression in the area will bring heavy rain and strong winds that could disrupt the delivery of supplies and anti-epidemic equipment, as well as make mass testing more difficult.
The situation underscores the difficulty of maintaining China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid in the face of more infectious omicron sub-variants. An outbreak in Shanghai earlier this year was brought under control by a hardline two-month lockdown that confined the financial hub’s 25 million residents to their homes, only to now see cases continue to flare up in other regions.
Nevertheless, President Xi Jinping has recommitted to the approach, saying the nation won’t pursue “herd immunity” like other countries because it would exact too much of a toll, particularly on China’s elderly, who have lower vaccination rates. The result is that China has become isolated as the rest of the world lives with the virus, and frequent lockdowns, restrictions and mass testing efforts are disrupting the economy, despite moves to mitigate the blow in recent months.
State news published a commentary Monday outlining China’s economic achievement, such as a record trade surplus and low inflation, under Xi’s directive of Covid Zero. The approach is correct and the Communist Party can’t become complacent in the fight against the virus, the report said, repeating a line the Chinese leader made at a May political meeting.