'War-time' lockdown ordered for millions as Covid-19 outbreaks spiral

China is fighting Covid-19 flare-ups across the country with mass testing and fresh restrictions and one city is calling for a "war-time" state to stop the spread.

In the northwestern city of Xian in the Shaanxi province, a seven-day closure of various entertainment venues and suspension of dining-in at restaurants went into effect on Wednesday.

The city of 13 million detected 11 new cases on Tuesday.

Xian, famed for its Terracotta Army, is the first major Chinese city to declare a fight against the BA.5.2 subvariant of the contagious Omicron Covid variant, seen as more infectious than previous variants.

 Subway trains run smoothly during the morning rush hour in Xi 'an, Capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, July 6, 2022.
Temporary control measures were put into effect for seven days from midnight on the same day in China's Shaanxi Province. Source: CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Shaanxi governor Zhao Yide said the province's cities should enter a "war-time" state and ramp up screening of travellers.

Shanghai is among the Chinese cities experiencing flare-ups. In China's most populous city, new cases have been linked to a building that houses an illegal karaoke lounge.

Shanghai, which reported 24 new cases for Tuesday versus eight the previous day, is testing all residents in nine of its 16 districts from Tuesday to Thursday as well as those in parts of three other districts.

The commercial hub of around 25 million already requires residents to get tested frequently in order to enter shopping malls or take public transport.

City authorities have suspended operations of karaoke lounges, but other recently-reopened cultural venues such as libraries will stay open. Cinemas are due to reopen on Friday.

 Health workers and security wearing protective clothing work inside a compound under lockdown after new COVID-19 cases were found in the area on June 16, 2022 in Beijing, China
Health authorities are scrambling to contain Covid outbreaks across the country. Source: Getty Images

Covid-zero strategy unwavering

Pressure is mounting on officials to avert a wider spread and disruptions similar to the painful and costly isolation that Shanghai, suffered in April and May.

"Several Chinese areas are facing local outbreaks and infections have emerged at the community level in Shanghai, to which we should attach great importance," city health official Zhao Dandan told reporters on Wednesday.

"There should be no slacking," Zhao said.

While the country's latest daily caseload of just over 300 infections is insignificant by global standards, worries it could trigger another round of strict curbs weighed on Chinese stocks and markets worldwide.

China is the only major economy digging in its heels on a "zero-Covid" policy aimed at promptly eradicating all outbreaks, while the rest of the world tries to co-exist with the virus.

China is pursuing Covid-zero. Source: Getty Images
China continues to implement its Covid-zero strategy. Source: Getty Images

Beijing, which reported six cases on Tuesday, urged transport hubs and hotels to check the body temperature of visitors and proof of negative COVID test results.

The caseload in the eastern Anhui province, where more than 1 million people in small towns are under lockdown, declined slightly to 222 on Tuesday from 231 a day before. The province still accounts for most of China's new infections.

President Xi Jinping said it was better to incur "temporary" economic costs than to "harm the lives and health of the people" and that accepting COVID as endemic would have "unimaginable" consequences in China.

Officials have pointed to the millions of COVID-linked deaths around the world, versus the 5226 reported in China.

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