Authorities in Wuhan on Tuesday said they would test its entire population for Covid-19 after the central Chinese city where the coronavirus emerged reported its first local infections in more than a year.
China is battling its largest coronavirus outbreak in months, confining the residents of entire cities to their homes, cutting transport links and rolling out mass testing as the fast-spreading Delta variant challenges its zero-Covid strategy and homegrown vaccines.
Beijing had previously boasted of its success in crushing the virus, allowing the economy to rebound and normal life to return while swathes of the globe have struggled with the pandemic that has killed more than four million people worldwide.
But the latest outbreak is threatening China’s success with more than 400 domestic cases reported since mid-July when a cluster among airport cleaners in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, sparked infections in over 20 cities across more than a dozen provinces.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is “swiftly launching comprehensive nucleic acid testing of all residents”, senior city official Li Tao said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Authorities announced on Monday that seven locally transmitted infections had been found among migrant workers in the city, breaking a year-long streak without domestic cases after Wuhan squashed an initial outbreak with an unprecedented lockdown in early 2020.
And the holiday destination of Zhangjiajie in central China’s Hunan province abruptly announced Tuesday that no one would be allowed to exit the city, after closing tourist attractions and encouraging visitors to leave last week.
“All residents, tourists and other personnel are forbidden to leave Zhangjiajie,” according to a brief notice published in the city’s Communist Party mouthpiece Zhangjiajie Daily.
Major cities including the capital Beijing have now tested millions of residents while cordoning off residential compounds and placing close contacts under quarantine.
China reported 61 domestic cases on Tuesday.
The eastern city of Yangzhou, near Nanjing, was the latest local government to order residents to stay home after large-scale testing detected 40 new infections over the past day.
The more than 1.3 million residents of Yangzhou’s urban core are now confined to their homes, with each household allowed to send only one person outside per day to shop for necessities, the city government said Tuesday.
The announcement comes after Zhuzhou city near Zhangjiajie imposed similar orders in recent days on more than two million people combined.
The outbreak spread to Hunan from Nanjing last month after people in the airport cluster attended theatre performances in Zhangjiajie.
Officials have since been desperately tracking down thousands of fellow theatregoers and urging tourists not to travel to areas where cases have been found.
Meanwhile, Beijing has blocked tourists from entering the capital during the peak summer holiday travel season and asked residents not to leave unless necessary, with top officials vowing over the weekend to “spare no expense” in defending the city.
Photos from Wuhan on Monday showed supermarket shelves stripped bare by shoppers apparently stocking up in preparation of being locked back down, in scenes reminiscent of the panic buying before the city was cut off from the rest of the world for 76 days last year in the first lockdown.
Officials took to social media on Tuesday pledging to “calm the panicked mood of city residents”, announcing that stores had promised to keep prices and supply chains stable.
Mao, a 27-year-old Wuhan resident, told AFP he was “not worried” about the new outbreak as “Wuhan has accumulated rich experience”, including widespread vaccination.
“I’m not concerned at all that the city will be locked down again,” he said, giving his surname only.