BEIJING: Tens of millions of people were stranded in China on Wednesday as businesses in a major tourist city were forced to close and new clusters raised fears of a return to blanket restrictions.
Health authorities reported more than 300 infections on Wednesday, with clusters found in the country’s historic northern city of Xi’an, home to the Terracotta Army, as well as the country’s largest city, Shanghai. .
The new cases and the official response to them have heightened fears that China is on the verge of reverting to the kinds of tough restrictions seen earlier this year, when Beijing’s sweeping zero-Covid policy saw dozens of million people locked down for weeks.
In Shanghai, some residents on social media reported receiving food rations from the government on Tuesday – a throwback to the month-long spring lockdown.
“Let me tell you a scary story, Putuo district is sending vegetables again,” read a resident’s viral WeChat post.
“I’m so nervous, the epidemic has destroyed my youth. I’m about to go crazy,” another Shanghai-based Weibo user posted.
Authorities have launched a new round of mass testing in more than half of the city’s neighborhoods after a rebound in cases since the weekend, closing all karaoke bars on Wednesday after some infections were linked to six of those premises.
And Xi’an – a historic city of 13 million that suffered a month-long lockdown late last year – was put back under “temporary control measures” after 29 infections were found, mostly among waste recycling workers, since Saturday.
Public entertainment venues including pubs, internet cafes and karaoke bars will close from midnight Wednesday, the city government said in a notice.
State media showed footage of Xi’an residents lining up for tests after midnight on Tuesday, while emphasizing that the city was not in lockdown.
Officials blamed the city’s outbreak on the BA.5.2 subline of the Omicron variant, which is more transmissible and immune evasive.
“The positive infections are all the BA.5.2 branch of the Omicron variant, and epidemiological tracing work is in full swing,” Xi’an health official Ma Chaofeng told a press briefing.
The new outbreaks pose a new challenge to President Xi Jinping, who last week reaffirmed his commitment to zero covid despite the increasing economic cost.
Japanese bank Nomura estimated that at least 114.8 million people were under full or partial lockdown across the country since Monday, a sharp increase from last week’s 66.7 million.
More than 1,000 infections have been reported since last week in central Anhui province, dozens of which have spread to Jiangsu province neighboring Shanghai, threatening the central manufacturing region of the Yangtze Delta.

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