2021-11-30 09:46:44

Just as countries around the world begin to guard themselves against the highly mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus, some Chinese provinces and cities have implemented strict defenses amid domestic outbreaks that have lasted for more than a month.

The northwestern province of Shaanxi has imposed some of the strictest entry control measures for domestic travelers, mandating at least 14-day quarantine — similar to international arrivals in China — for anyone coming from locations designated “medium- and high-risk” in the country, the provincial government said last week. Authorities said the policy would be kept in place from “this winter to next spring” for visitors or returning residents from areas with at least one confirmed or asymptomatic infection.

Shaanxi’s strategy indicates the tough stance some local governments are taking, even going a step further than national virus control measures. The province — home to several historic sites and tourist attractions — has classified any area with a single asymptomatic or confirmed case as a medium- and high-risk zone, while the central government requires 10 or more local infections within 14 days for a location to be designated as high risk.

On Monday, China reported 21 confirmed local infections, all in the northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to the National Health Commission. The country currently has 20 medium- and high-risk areas, including 11 in Inner Mongolia, four in the northeastern province of Liaoning, two in Yunnan province in the southwest, and three in Shanghai.

Soon after the city of Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia identified three asymptomatic cases on Saturday, it immediately suspended flights and public transportation and carried out mass virus testing among residents. The autonomous region has logged one of the largest number of cases since the fresh wave of COVID-19, first detected in Shaanxi on Oct. 17.

A staff at the hotline for Shaanxi’s health commission told Sixth Tone that apart from quarantine measures for domestic travelers from neighborhoods designated as risk zones, others traveling from those districts will have their green health code changed to yellow, rendering them unable to use public transportation or enter public facilities and entertainment venues.

Zhang Xiaofei, a photographer based in the city of Shijiazhuang in the northern Hebei province, went to Xi’an in Shaanxi for a photoshoot on Nov. 22 but was told at the train station to either return to his point of origin or opt for a 14-day quarantine. Zhang usually works in downtown Shijiazhuang, more than 60 kilometers away from the local infection areas, which had been downgraded as “low risk” since Nov. 18.

“A 14-day quarantine is so troublesome,” he told Sixth Tone, adding that he returned to Shijiazhuang after taking a nucleic acid test at Xi’an train station. He said he wasted 800 yuan ($125) on the two train rides.

The entry and exit policies in Shaanxi are part of the initiatives taken to uphold the country’s “dynamic zero” COVID-19 policy, under which local officials have often been punished for lax attitude amid virus flare-ups. While the country’s top officials have indicated that China will stick with the current strategy, some health experts believe they “wouldn’t expect” zero outbreaks.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a conference Sunday that the “containment and zero COVID” strategy was the most effective way to prevent and control infections. A study by mathematicians from Peking University, published on the center’s website, showed that China could record over 637,000 daily infections if the country adopted the United States-like strategy.

“(China’s policy) can keep the vast majority of the country unaffected by outbreaks, and to a maximum extent, ensure normal socio-economic situation and life,” Wu said. “We should stick to it, at least during this winter and next spring.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A COVID-19 control worker sterilizes Xi’an Railway Station in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Oct. 20, 2021. People Visual)