Up to 13 million people have been placed into lockdown in the city of Xi’an in China, as authorities move to clamp down on the community spread of Covid-19 after 127 infections were found in a second round of mass testing.
The snap lockdown on Thursday comes little over a month before Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympics.
All residents in Xi’an are barred from leaving their houses except to buy living necessities every other day or for emergencies, while travel to and from the city is suspended save for in exceptional circumstances requiring official approval. All non-essential businesses have also been closed.
Authorities issued an order late on Wednesday, according to the state news agency Xinhua. The vice-premier, Sun Chunlan, has travelled to the region to oversee implementation of the lockdown.
Infections had spread to 14 districts in Xi’an – home to the world-famous Terracotta Warriors – as of Wednesday. Community infections in the capital of Shaanxi province grew after an initial case was detected at a local university. Health workers began a third round of mass testing on Thursday. State media has not reported what the variant of the infections in Xi’an is.
The lockdown measures are some of the most severe since China locked down 11 million residents in Wuhan in early 2020, where the Covid-19 virus was first detected.
China reported 71 local cases on Thursday, 63 of which were in Xi’an.
The lockdown has separated family members with no notice. Some social media users expressed fears and concerns for family members caught in the locked-down region.
“I haven’t been afraid of the epidemic for so long, but this time is different because my child is still in Xi’an,” one Weibo user wrote.
The sudden announcement set off scenes of panic-buying in the city ahead of lockdown at midnight on Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The announcement on Wednesday gave no indication of how long the lockdown will last.
The snap lockdown comes amid fears of growing infections nationwide after cases linked to Xi’an were detected in five other regions, including Beijing to the north and Guangdong to the south, according to state media reports.
China, which is doggedly pursuing a “zero-Covid” approach to the virus, implements some of the world’s strictest measures in a bid to quell all infections, including strict travel restrictions, mass mandatory testing and obligatory quarantine for close contacts. It has placed tens of thousands of people into mandatory quarantine in recent months in response to new infections.
The lockdown comes as China has reported cases of the Omicron variant in at least three provinces and weeks before the Beijing Winter Olympics are set to start on 4 February.
China stepped up its quarantine measures and controls for port cities on Monday, with state media saying authorities are “confident” the spread of Omicron will remain under control.
Other provinces, including the major port hub of Zhejiang, have also been battling a rise in infections in recent weeks.