The city at the center of China’s worst Covid-19 outbreak has tightened isolation measures in nearly two years and launched another round of mandatory testing for its 13 million residents in an effort to extinguish the virus.
Health authorities in Xi’an, the capital of the central province of Shaanxi, said 150 cases of local transmission were detected on Sunday, slightly less than on Saturday. But they said they expect an increase in the number of those infected as the fourth round of testing for the entire population began on Monday.
Zhang Yi, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Shaanxi Province, told state media that Xi’an residents should not be “overly concerned about this short-lived rapid rise” in daily cases, which doubled from the 75 detected on Friday.
“The more cases detected by testing, the better,” Zhang added. “The epidemic should generally slow down through the implementation of control and prevention measures.”
The total number of new cases reported nationwide on Sunday reached 162, the highest daily total since April 2020, when China tackled a devastating pandemic that erupted in Wuhan that January.
The number of cases is small compared to the total in countries like the U.S., which reported more than 265,000 new Covidom infections and 3,300 deaths on Thursday. But eruption in Xian it is treated as a crisis in the context of China’s strategy to control the “zero Covid” epidemic.
Central government officials are concerned that an epidemic across the country could lead to a huge number of hospitalizations and deaths given relatively low efficiency Chinese vaccines, especially as the highly contagious variant of Omicron begins to penetrate the country.
A second Omicron case has been reported in China December 14th after the carrier, who had returned from abroad, was negative during a two-week quarantine in Shanghai and took a domestic flight to his hometown of Guangzhou, in the southern province of Guangdong.
President Xi Jinping’s administration is determined to prevent epidemics before winter Olympic games start in Beijing on February 4 under strict “bubble” protocols.
According to new controls unveiled on Monday, Xi’an residents are only allowed to leave their homes for testing. Last week households were told that one member could buy food and other necessities every other day.
Anyone who wanted to leave the city had to take a negative test and get permission from their employer and the Chinese Communist Party under control neighborhood committees who control small urban areas. But such permits were almost impossible to secure, as officials would risk being responsible for issuing travel permits to anyone who eventually spread the virus.
On Friday, the party’s disciplinary inspection committee said it had identified 26 Xian officials who allegedly did not act decisively enough to prevent an outbreak in the city, but did not name them or specify their penalties.
Additional report by Maiqi Ding from Beijing