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2021-10-27 09:48:53

Several Chinese cities are enforcing strict lockdowns after the country reported its highest daily locally transmitted COVID-19 infections in over a month and authorities scramble to stamp out the virus surge that started mid-October.

There were 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, with the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region logging more than half of the infections, according to the National Health Commission. The current wave of infections has spread to Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Gansu province in the northwest, the southwestern province of Guizhou, Shandong in the east, as well as the capital Beijing.

In Gansu’s provincial capital of Lanzhou, authorities sealed off residential neighborhoods citywide Tuesday, reminiscent of the lockdowns previously imposed in the cities of Wuhan, Urumqi, and most recently, Nanjing. The city’s 4 million residents were asked to stay indoors, while most taxis, bike-sharing services, and public transportation were suspended.

A man sterilizes a classroom in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Oct. 26, 2021. Liu Wenhua/CNS/People Visual

A man sterilizes a classroom in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Oct. 26, 2021. Liu Wenhua/CNS/People Visual

“There are no people on the streets now,” a local surnamed Xue told Sixth Tone over the phone, adding residents can apply for entry and exit passes to residential community groups for mobility.

Xue, who works at a hotel in the downtown Chengguan District, said the property is not accepting guests and currently only housing officials on virus-prevention duties. Tourists stranded in the city, however, can leave with a negative COVID-19 test result conducted within 48 hours before their trip.

Meanwhile, restaurants remained open but mostly to fulfill deliveries, according to another Lanzhou resident, surnamed Li, who works at a fast food chain. She told Sixth Tone that she had done three COVID-19 tests after Lanzhou reported its first infections last week.

As of Tuesday, Lanzhou had reported 42 cases of COVID-19 since the latest wave of outbreak started earlier this month. After a tourist couple tested positive for the virus in the northwestern city of Xi’an on Oct. 16, the infections that have been attributed to the more contagious Delta variant have swiftly spread to at least nine regions and provinces, infecting over 170 people.

Local residents get COVID-19 test in Ruili, Yunnan province, Oct. 23, 2021. People Visual

Local residents get COVID-19 test in Ruili, Yunnan province, Oct. 23, 2021. People Visual

Since China lifted its first and strictest lockdown in the central city of Wuhan last April, the country has largely remained virus-free while other countries have been inundated with infections. Authorities have put greater emphasis on prevention and control of the virus and adopted a “zero COVID” approach — a strategy countries like Australia and Singapore also adopted, but later readjusted — to avert large-scale infections.

However, sporadic outbreaks have raised questions over the virus-free strategy. But with the Beijing Winter Olympics less than 100 days away, Chinese authorities are becoming even more cautious, enforcing strict control measures to contain the spread of the contagion.

While Beijing is conducting stringent virus tracing of the close contacts of residents who tested positive after returning from trips to northwest China, several other cities are in lockdown mode. Some 1 million residents in the city of Zhangye in Gansu, as well as Erenhot and Ejina Banner in the sparsely populated Inner Mongolia, have barred people from leaving their residential compounds, prohibited inbound and outbound travels except with official clearance, and launched massive virus testing drives to stop its spread.

As of Tuesday, Zhangye had logged seven local COVID-19 infections, while Ejina Banner reported 84 cases. Some half a dozen officials, including Ejina Banner’s party chief have either been punished or removed from their posts for their “slack response” against the virus surge.

Meanwhile, Ruili, a small city in the southwestern province of Yunnan that borders Myanmar, has faced some of the strictest virus prevention measures amid sporadic outbreaks since last year. In July, the city of 200,000 people also installed a surveillance system with facial recognition to track residents and stop infections.

Local residents have taken to social media to complain about mandatory quarantines in sparsely furnished and unhygienic rooms, adding that the persistent lockdowns have disrupted their livelihood. 

“People in Ruili want more attention and support,” read one Weibo post from a user who identified as a local resident. “You can’t just go straight into lockdown once there are new infections and offer limited explanations.”

Contributions: Xu Jialu; editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A pharmacist stands at a pharmacy entrance in Lanzhou, Gansu province, Oct. 26, 2021. People Visual)