China is racing to stem the outbreak of Covid-19 in the tourist hubs of Tibet and Hainan, with authorities launching more mass testing rounds and closing places to contain the highly-spreading Omicron variant as Beijing presses ahead with its Covid Zero strategy.
Official data showed, on Tuesday, that mainland China reported 828 new cases of infection transmitted locally across more than 12 provinces and regions on August 8, with more than half of them in Hainan, a very popular tourist destination.
Tibet, which has so far reported only one occasional case since the outbreak of the epidemic more than two years ago, has also reported cases.
Parts of Tibet conducted mass Covid-19 tests on Tuesday, including its two largest cities, Lhasa and Shigatse, as local authorities suspended large events, closed entertainment and religious venues, and closed some tourist sites including Potala Palace.
Tibetan authorities reported one local patient with confirmed symptoms and 21 asymptomatic local infections on August 8. While the caseload has been very small compared to elsewhere in China and globally, the rare infection has hit a nerve in some populations.
“Even though my life and work were not affected much, and Lhasa took action very quickly, I was still very shocked, because Tibet has been free of Covid for about 920 days,” said Yongchen, a 26-year-old Lhasa resident. Her employer told her to work from home.
“I was a little worried because we don’t know when and where those infected with the virus got infected,” she told Reuters, preferring not to give her full name.
Yongchen said she does not expect a month-long shutdown similar to Shanghai in Lhasa, but is still buying rice and cooking oil. She’s bought enough to last four to five days in case she can’t eat out if Covid restrictions tighten.
Shigatse, the gateway to the Everest region in Tibet, has set a three-day “silence period” during which people are forbidden to enter or leave, with many businesses suspended.
State television said on Tuesday that both Lhasa and Shigatse are holding a new round of group auditions, with the second round starting on Wednesday.
In Ngari Prefecture, western Tibet, a sparsely populated area that attracted many pilgrims to Mount Kailash, three towns began three rounds of group auditions, while the rest started their first rounds, state television reported.
Omicron’s variants challenge China’s strategy of preventing the rapid spread of every emerging group.
Tibet and Hainan, which have seen relatively few cases for more than two years, now face the risks of continued stringent restrictions as the economy weakens. Their tourism-dependent economies could be particularly vulnerable if the outbreak continues for an extended period.
In tropical Hainan, millions of residents are under lockdown in many cities and towns, and are only allowed to go out for essential reasons such as COVID testing, grocery shopping and essential job roles.
Dongfang, a city of more than 400,000 people, went into a three-day lockdown starting Tuesday. The provincial capital, Haikou, lifted its hours-long lockdown on Monday.
Some 178,000 tourists were also stranded on the island, according to state media reports. Hainan said Tuesday that some tourists are allowed to leave if they test negative.
Provincial authorities should take all measures to achieve it by Friday.”covid zero “No new cases are emerging in communities outside the quarantine areas,” the Hainan government said in a statement late Monday.
A provincial health official said Hainan’s success in containing smaller groups in April and July led to complacency among officials and residents.
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