City to be locked down after first cases of Omicron subvariant BA.5 reported in China

Published on Jul 05, 2022 10:20 PM IST

The city of Xian in northwest China’s Shaanxi province will be locked down from Wednesday, following a community outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5

A healthcare worker in protective gear collects a sample from a resident at a Covid-19 testing booth in Beijing, China, on Tuesday. (Bloomberg)
A healthcare worker in protective gear collects a sample from a resident at a Covid-19 testing booth in Beijing, China, on Tuesday. (Bloomberg)

The city of Xian in northwest China’s Shaanxi province will be locked down from Wednesday, following a community outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5, the first cases of the Covid subvariant in China, becoming the latest challenge to the country’s zero-Covid policy.

The Xian municipal government ordered a week-long lockdown after around a dozen locally transmitted cases - both symptomatic and asymptomatic - were detected in the past three days.

All public places including schools, restaurants, gyms, cultural activity venues and markets will be shut down from Wednesday, the announcement on Tuesday said. While in-house dining has been suspended, take-aways will be allowed, authorities said.

“Special places such as prisons, welfare homes, and old-age institutions will be closed for management,” a state media report said. Strict curbs on the movement of private and public transport are also expected to be set in place.

The residents are likely to go through repeated mass tests this coming week in line with the zero-Covid protocols followed by China.

Zhang Yi, an infectious diseases specialist from Shaanxi’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told the news platform Cnwest.com that the Omicron BA.5 strain was behind the latest outbreak in the provincial capital Xian.

“The Omicron BA.5 subvariant is even more transmissible and spreads even more quickly than the previous BA2.2 sublineage, and it has an even stronger capability to escape vaccines,” Zhang was quoted as saying by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

Both BA.4 and BA.5 were first detected in South Africa earlier this year and are said to be behind an uptick in cases in various countries, including the US.

For Xian’s residents, the shutting down of the city, will be a grim reminder of the situation barely six months ago.

The city, known for the Terracotta Army historical site, went through a gruelling lockdown for weeks late last year following a Covid-19 outbreak in December. It was again partially locked down in April, following another cluster of cases.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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