The Chinese city of Chengdu extended a lockdown for a majority of its more than 21 million residents on Thursday to prevent further transmission of COVID-19 while millions more in other parts of China were told to shun travel in upcoming holidays.
Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, was locked down on Sept. 1 after COVID cases were detected, becoming the largest Chinese metropolis hit with curbs since Shanghai’s lockdown in April and May.
Since last week, Chengdu has mostly reported fewer than 200 new infections a day, a tiny fraction compared with outbreaks in other parts of the world. It found 116 new cases for Sept. 7 versus 121 the day earlier, authorities said on Thursday.
The lockdown had been expected to be lifted on Wednesday but officials said late in the day that the virus still posed a risk in some areas and extended the lockdown for 16 million of the city’s residents.
Those under lockdown will be tested every day and anyone who tests positive will be quarantined. Residents in areas deemed high-risk are not allowed out of their homes.
Chengdu is aiming for zero new community infections within a week, its COVID prevention and control command said in a statement.
The extension puts a further strain on the city, which recently has also endured heatwaves, power cuts and an earthquake.
“I’m concerned the lockdown will be further extended,” said Zhang Yue, a Chengdu resident.
“Many people aren’t taking it seriously. In some neighborhoods, people secretly meet up to play mah-jong, while some refuse to do the tests scheduled early in the morning.”
China has been battling to contain the highly transmissible Omicron variant, imposing lockdowns of various degrees to stop its spread. Shanghai was locked down in April and May while Xian, Shenzhen and Guiyang have also undergone lockdowns and restrictions.
Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry, a state-owned firm that manages Apple’s cloud services data center in Guiyang, said in a statement that many employees were living and working on site, away from their families.
“Every employee sees this chance to participate in this great war as his honor and pride!” the company said on Wednesday.
Japanese brokerage and investment bank Nomura said that, as of Tuesday, 49 Chinese cities had various levels of lockdowns or control measures, with an estimated 291.7 million people affected, up from 161.3 million the previous week.
Those people accounted for 20.7% of China’s population and come from areas that contribute 24.5% of its gross domestic product, Nomura said.
Chinese stocks edged lower on Thursday, defying a rally in other Asian markets as COVID clouded the economic outlook.
Nationwide, China found 1,439 new infections on Wednesday, the National Health Commission said. Cases have been reported in every region and province in recent weeks.
Cities have urged residents to refrain from non-essential trips in the run-up to a week-long National Day holiday at the beginning of October and a Communist Party Congress in mid-October, when President Xi Jinping is widely expected to secure a precedent – breaking third term as leader.
“The general public is encouraged to celebrate the National Day holiday where they are and minimize travel to other cities,” an official at China’s health authority told reporters on Thursday.
Those who travel to other provinces will be subject to a COVID test upon arrival, he said.
Reporting by Ryan Woo and Roxanne Liu; Additional reporting by Bernard Orr, Liu Siyi and Brenda Goh; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel and Edmund Klamann