China’s zero-Covid policy faces major challenge
More than 1,000 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the Chinese city of Xi’an since December 9. Despite a local lockdown, infection numbers have continued to grow, testing Beijing’s zero-Covid policy.
On Thursday, authorities in Xi’an, a city in Shaanxi Province, reported that 155 new locally transmitted cases were identified on December 29. The figure brings the number of cases recorded since December 9, when the outbreak flared up, to more than 1,100.
“Xi’an has reached a live-or-die stage in its fight against the virus,” Zhang Fenghu, a city government official, told a news conference on Wednesday. The outbreak is the largest seen in China this year.
The city of 13 million people went into lockdown over a week ago, closing all non-essential shops and barring all restaurants from opening. Residents were also told not to leave the city unless they tested negative for the virus.
Police have also been sent to residential complexes to ensure that citizens adhere to the restrictions. Under the current rules, only one person in each household can leave their home to visit essential shops every two days.
Restrictions were stepped up again this week, with officials banning any cars from being on the road unless they’re aiding disease prevention measures. Those who break the rules could face 10 days’ detention and a fine of 500 yuan ($78).
Authorities kicked off a sixth round of citywide testing on Thursday in an attempt to track and trace the spread of the virus.
Two of the world’s largest memory-chip makers, Samsung Electronics and Micron Technology, have said that the lockdown may impact production from their facilities in the area.
To date, China has only reported 101,890 confirmed Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began – a figure less than the daily record in France and the UK. On Wednesday, the French health minister announced his country had set a new European daily case record at over 200,000 infections. However, it is worth noting that asymptomatic cases are not included in the Chinese data.
Beijing has insisted on a zero-Covid policy since overcoming the first wave, often locking down cities when just a handful of cases had been identified.
The zero-Covid policy is being tested more broadly with the emergence of highly contagious variants, and amid growing concern about the efficacy of Chinese vaccines, especially against newer strains of the coronavirus.