China fights Covid outbreaks in tourist hubs of Tibet and Hainan | Tibet

China is struggling to contain outbreaks of Covid-19 in the tourist hubs of Tibet and Hainan as authorities begin new rounds of mass testing and close centers to contain the highly transmissible Omicron variant as Beijing continues its Covid zero strategy.

Mainland China reported 828 new cases of domestic transmission in more than a dozen provinces and regions as of Aug. 8, with more than half of them in Hainan, a highly popular tourist destination, official data showed on Tuesday.

Tibet, which has so far reported only one symptomatic case since the pandemic began more than two years ago, has also reported cases.

Parts of Tibet were conducting mass testing for Covid-19 on Tuesday, including the two largest cities, Lhasa and Shigatse, where local authorities suspended large-scale events, closed entertainment and religious facilities and closed some tourist sites, including the Potala Palace.

Tibetan authorities reported one local patient with confirmed symptoms and 21 local asymptomatic infections on August 8. Although the number of cases has been very small compared to other regions of China and around the world, the rare infections have affected some residents.

“Although it didn’t affect my life and work much and Lhasa took action very quickly, I was still very shocked because Tibet has been free of Covid for about 920 days,” said Yongchen, a 26-year-old Lhasa resident who the employer said to work at home.

“I was a little worried because we don’t know when or where infected people got the virus,” she told Reuters, preferring not to give her full name.

Yongchen said she didn’t expect a months-long quarantine in Lhasa like in Shanghai, but she still bought rice and oil. She bought enough to last four to five days in case she can’t have dinner if the Covid restrictions are tightened.

Shigadze, the gateway city to Tibet’s Everest region, has planned a three-day “quiet period” during which people are not allowed to enter or leave, and many businesses are closed.

Both Lhasa and Shigadze were conducting a new round of mass testing, with the second round starting on Wednesday, state television said on Tuesday.

In Tibet’s western Ngari prefecture, a sparsely populated region that attracts many pilgrims to Mount Kailash, three towns have begun three rounds of mass testing while the rest have begun the first, state television reported.

The Omicron sub-variants challenge China’s strategy of quickly blocking the spread of each newly created cluster.

Tibet and Hainan, which have seen relatively few cases for more than two years, now face the risk of continued tight restrictions as economies weaken. Their tourism-dependent economies could be particularly vulnerable if outbreaks continue.

A courier stands on an electric bicycle to send a delivery through a barricade in Sanya, Hainan Province Photo: China Daily/Reuters

In tropical Hainan, millions of residents are under quarantine in several cities and towns, allowed to go out only for essential reasons such as Covid tests, grocery shopping and important jobs.

Dongfang, a city of more than 400,000 residents, entered a three-day quarantine starting Tuesday. The provincial capital of Haikou lifted the lockdown that lasted for several hours on Monday.

About 178,000 tourists were also stranded on the island, according to state media. Hainan said on Tuesday that some tourists would be allowed to leave if they could show negative test results.

The provincial government must take all measures to achieve “zero community-level COVID-19” by Friday, when there are no new cases in communities outside quarantine zones, the Hainan government said in a statement late Monday.

Hainan’s success in containing smaller outbreaks in April and July has led to complacency among officials and residents, one provincial health official said.

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