China’s beach resort city of Sanya is ramping up its Covid-19 controls, disrupting the holiday plans of thousands of people, after a surge in cases made it the nation’s latest virus hotspot.
The city in the southern province of Hainan — often called the “Hawaii of China” — reported 107 new infections since noon Thursday, according to CCTV. That takes the total number of cases since Monday to more than 140. Officials say the flareup is driven by the BA.5.1.3 omicron subvariant, which hasn’t been found in China before, and is linked to a fishmonger.
Authorities partially locked down the city on Thursday, closing indoor venues like karaoke parlors and bars, while restaurants are only offering takeout. People in areas categorized as high-risk are banned from leaving their homes or lodgings, while others can only venture outside once every two days to purchase necessities. Anyone wanting to leave Sanya needs to have a negative Covid test result taken within 48 hours of departure.
For holidaymakers remaining in the city, there’s little to see and do and Chinese social media showed photos of lines of people snaking around Covid testing sites. Tourist attractions have closed and visiting the beach in Yalong Bay and Haitang Bay requires a negative test done within 24 hours.
The swift lockdown, a core tenet of Covid Zero, has been echoed across China since the earliest days of the pandemic. But the strategy is being increasingly challenged by the spread of more contagious sub-variants and has exacted a heavy economic and social toll.
It’s also left the country isolated in a world that’s mostly pivoted to living with the virus and it’s unclear how authorities can navigate toward an exit. President Xi Jinping has made the zero-tolerance approach a hallmark of his rule and has said the nation won’t pursue “herd immunity” like other nations because it would exact too much of a toll, particularly on China’s elderly, who have lower vaccination rates.
Sanya is the third tourist hub in China to see its peak season disrupted by outbreaks this year. Beihai in the picturesque Guangxi province locked down last month to curb an outbreak, before starting to ease restrictions from Aug. 1. The Xinjiang city of Yining, which draws in Silk Road tourists, has had cross-province group tours suspended and officials have asked visitors to stay away.
Elsewhere, the manufacturing and trade city of Yiwu, famous for churning out Christmas trees and decorations, has stepped up movement restrictions. Public transport will be suspended for three days from Friday and most indoor venues have been shut as the city carries out mass testing. Residents in some areas have been banned from leaving their homes. Jinhua, the prefecture-level city that administers areas including Yiwu, reported 65 cases for Thursday.
China reported 410 cases nationwide for Thursday.