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Major Chinese city locks down to control Covid outbreak

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Students queue up for COVID-19 nucleic acid testing at Xi’an Jiaotong University on December 17, 2021 in Xi an, Shaanxi Province of China.
Hua Shang Daily | Visual China Group | Getty Images

BEIJING — A major city in central China that’s seen a flare-up of Covid-19 cases locked down on Thursday, with local authorities using language similar to that used during the height of the pandemic in the country.

The outbreak in Xi’an city — population 13 million — stems from the delta variant, authorities said. Mainland China has only reported a handful of Omicron cases so far, while the rapidly spreading strain has become the dominant variant in the U.S.

Xi’an city’s confirmed coronavirus case count is far lower than what other cities have reported overseas. But the city has also reported an unspecified number of hemorrhagic fever cases, a high mortality disease transmitted by rodents. Local authorities have noted the disease appears seasonally, typically from October to January, and from April to June.

The Xi’an municipal government told residents on Wednesday not to leave the city unless necessary, and ordered apartment compounds and workplaces to require passes for exit and entry beginning Thursday.

Each household can only send one person out every two days to buy groceries and other necessities, authorities said, echoing some of the more stringent policies announced in different parts of the country in early 2020.

Xi’an city told businesses such as movie theaters and in-person educational institutions to halt operations, and prohibited dining in at restaurants. Authorities banned large-scale events, while schools have generally shut or moved classes online.

The city reported 143 confirmed locally transmitted cases between Dec. 9 and the end of Tuesday. Authorities said late Wednesday that a second round of city-wide testing found 127 positive cases. It was not immediately clear whether there was any overlap in the figures.

Xi’an accounts for just under 1% of China’s GDP, according to official data accessed through Wind Information. Electronics giant Samsung and U.S. chipmaker Micron have major operations in the city, which is home to many research or manufacturing centers for semiconductors, aerospace and other high-tech industries.

The city also attracts many tourists for its Terracotta Warriors — an army of clay sculptures from ancient times. Located in central China well over 800 miles from the east coast metropolis of Shanghai, Xi’an is one of the last major urban areas before the poorer regions of the west.

The local spread of the coronavirus cases mean that as of Wednesday, Xi’an city had one high-risk district, and 40 medium-risk districts. These risk designations affect the kind of virus control measures used, especially for determining whether a traveler is allowed into another city.

Hangzhou Covid risk subsides

Meanwhile in southeastern China, a broader outbreak began to subside. As of Tuesday, authorities said the city of Hangzhou — home to Alibaba’s headquarters — resumed low-risk status, after reducing the risk level of the last of medium risk areas in the city.

Hangzhou and two other parts of Zhejiang province had reported a total of 486 confirmed cases between Dec. 5 and Tuesday afternoon, according to local authorities. The province reported one new confirmed locally transmitted case on Wednesday, according to the National Health Commission.

The Chinese government remains on high alert for controlling outbreaks, especially as millions of people typically travel to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, which officially kicks off on Jan. 31. Authorities particularly want to ensure safe conditions for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which is set to begin on Feb. 4.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032.

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