With the Winter Olympics in Beijing scheduled to start in less than six weeks and the omicron variant spreading incredibly quickly in much of the world, China is pushing hard to maintain its zero COVID policy. In the northern city of Xi'an, around 13 million people are now under a very strict lockdown, with one person per household allowed to leave the home every two days to buy essential goods, the BBC reports. Authorities announced Wednesday that the indefinite lockdown would go into effect at midnight. Most transport to and from the city has been suspended and checkpoints have been installed on highways. High school and college classes have been shifted online and all indoor gatherings have been suspended.
The measures are some of the strictest China has put in place since the early 2020 lockdown in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, the AP reports. City officials said Wednesday that more than 140 cases had been detected in Xi'an since Dec. 9—including 52 of the 57 cases reported nationwide Tuesday—and numerous cases in other cities had been traced back to Xi'an, the Wall Street Journal reports. Later in the day, officials said mass testing in Xi'an had detected another 127 cases. Officials say the Xi'an cases are the delta variant, not omicron.
"Currently, the situation of pandemic prevention and control remains complicated and grim," a city official said when announcing the lockdown. So far, only seven omicron cases have been detected in China, but officials are already urging people to avoid travel over the Chinese New Year period for the third year in a row. In southern China, a city of 200,000 people was locked down Wednesday after a single COVID case was detected, the Washington Post reports. All residents of Dongxing, which sits on the border with Vietnam, were ordered to quarantine at home and the entry of people and goods was banned. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)