The country’s state-owned rail operator said on Wednesday they had suspended ticket sales for trains departing from 123 stations in 23 locations that have reported coronavirus infections. Previously Beijing’s municipal government had all but barred people visiting the city from areas reporting Covid cases.
The escalating restrictions come after the number of infections in the Chinese capital rose persistently over the past few days, while the current outbreak powered by the Delta variant has reached 19 out 31 mainland provinces, the broadest spread in China since the virus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019.
While Beijing has seen bigger outbreaks in the past, the latest resurgence — with cases reaching nearly 40 — comes just days ahead of a major summit for the ruling Communist Party, which will lay the ground for extending Xi Jinping’s term as leader.
The travel restrictions have also stopped some Beijing residents from returning home, in part because an electronic system barred them from booking train or plane tickets because it registered the capital as a location where Covid was spreading. The municipal government apologized for the blip, but later asked absentee Beijing residents traveling or overlapping elsewhere with confirmed Covid cases to delay their return.
Meanwhile, the further spread of the virus in Beijing also prompted city officials to order snap lockdowns of two schools and the suspension of in-class teaching at 16 other educational institutions as they sought to prevent outbreaks among teenagers and young children.
Latest Delta outbreak its most widespread since Wuhan
More provinces in China are fighting Covid-19 than at any time since the deadly pathogen first emerged in Wuhan in 2019.
The highly-infectious Delta variant is hurtling across the country despite the increasingly aggressive measures that officials have enacted in a bid to thwart it. More than 600 locally-transmitted infections have been found in 19 of 31 provinces in the latest outbreak in the world’s second-largest economy.
Officials in China say they are committed to maintaining a so-called Covid Zero approach, even though flare-ups are coming faster, spreading further and evading many of the measures that previously controlled the virus. The drastic responses needed to wipe out the Delta variant have led several other countries that had been pursuing elimination of the coronavirus, including Singapore and Australia, to shift focus and instead rely on high vaccination rates to be able to live with the virus as endemic.
China’s Ministry of Commerce urged residents to stock up on necessities for the fall and winter to be prepared for future outbreaks that could trigger snap lockdowns.
Chongqing, a municipality new to the latest outbreak, initiated mass testing overnight as officials aim to act decisively during the “golden 24 hours” after the virus is first detected. Changzhou, a city in Jiangsu province, has halted school from Wednesday for at least three days, with students turning to online classes.
China could go much further in its bid to keep out Covid-19. More than 30,000 people were tested at Shanghai Disneyland on Sunday, with visitors kept inside the park until nearly midnight after one infected person was found to have been there. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of residents in the remote southeastern city of Ruili on the border with high-risk Myanmar have been banned from leaving for months.
China’s top health expert, Zhong Nanshan, is confident the country can contain the current outbreak in a month’s time, according to an interview with state media CGTN.
Despite the global trend of countries learning to coexist with the virus, Zhong, who helped the government quell many outbreaks since the pandemic began, defended China’s approach, which has been criticized for its impact on the economy. While the restrictions necessary to control the virus are costly, opening up the country and allowing the pathogen to spread would exact an even steeper price, he said.
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