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Zero-Covid China: Xi’an shuts down as country finds first cases of Omicron’s new BA.5.2 sub-variant


The city recorded 18 Covid infections from Saturday to Monday, all belonging to the Omicron BA.5.2 subvariant, according to local disease control officials.

BA.5.2 is a subline of BA.5, which is already dominant in the United States and appears to evade antibody responses in people previously infected with Covid-19 and those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted, the researchers say.

This is the first time the subvariant has been reported in China, one of the last places in the world to still adhere to a strict zero-Covid policy.

On Tuesday, Xi’an officials announced sweeping restrictions that would shut down parts of the city for seven days starting Wednesday.

Entertainment, sports and cultural venues, including bars, cinemas, gyms, libraries and museums, have been closed; restaurant dining and large gatherings, from weddings to conferences, have been suspended; all places of worship have been closed and religious activities banned, city official Zhang Xuedong said at the press conference on Tuesday.

Kindergartens and primary and secondary schools have been ordered to start summer holidays early, while universities have been ordered to seal off their campuses, according to Zhang.

Authorities also locked down nine residential neighborhoods classified as “high-risk areas”, barring residents from leaving their communities.

“The seven-day temporary control measures are intended to calm society as much as possible, reduce mobility … and the risk of cross-infection,” Zhang said.

The announcement caused a stir among some Xi’an residents, many of whom recalled the chaos caused by the city’s month-long strict lockdown between December and January.

During this citywide lockdown, a steady stream of complaints about food shortages, as well as heartbreaking scenes of critical patients – including heavily pregnant women – being denied medical care have caused shock and anger across the country.
On Tuesday evening, photos and videos posted by Xi’an residents on social media showed huge crowds of travelers – many carrying large bags and suitcases – outside the station, rushing to leave the city.
Xi'an lockdown causes heartbreak and dysfunction as political pressure to contain outbreak mounts
In the city’s Changan district, residents were ordered to undergo mass Covid tests from midnight to 6 a.m. on Wednesday. They are only allowed to leave their communities, enter public places and use public transport after passing the tests, according to a government advisory.

On Wednesday, Xi’an reported 29 local infections.

Meanwhile in Shanghai, authorities on Tuesday ordered mass testing for 12 of its 16 districts, in response to a handful of new infections linked to a karaoke bar.

Although the financial hub lifted a months-long lockdown on most of its 25 million people in June, it is still subject to Covid restrictions, from frequent testing to targeted lockdowns.

On Wednesday, the city reported 24 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases.