China locks down city before ‘high risk’ Winter Olympics

With just weeks to go before hosting the Winter Olympics, China on Thursday locked down a major industrial city of 13 million people and admitted the sporting event will post a “very high” risk of COVID-19 spread.

The northeastern city of Xi’an was forced into one of the harshest lockdowns since the initial one last year in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

Despite officially only confirming 211 cases there in the past week, the government ruled that only one person in every household could leave once every two days to get groceries and necessities.

Flights, buses and taxis were all blocked from taking people out of the city, and tourists were banned from leaving their hotels.

Officials did not say if the lockdown was sparked by a spread of Omicron, the highly infectious variant that is sparking panic across the world. China has confirmed just seven Omicron cases, none in Xi’an.

However, the draconian measures come just weeks before thousands of athletes are due to head to China for the already troubled Winter Olympics in Beijing, about 620 miles from Xi’an.

Officials did not say if the lockdown was sparked by the Omicron variant. Above, medical workers do nucleic acid testing in a lab.
VIA REUTERS

Games virus control official Huang Chun admitted Thursday that international visitors face a “very high risk of transmission” at the event, set to run from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20.

“There could be a chance of a small-scale cluster outbreak happening,” Chun told a press briefing.

Visitors must be fully vaccinated and will need a negative Covid-19 test to be allowed into Beijing for the Games. Once there, they will enter an Olympic “bubble” with daily virus tests, officials announced.

Even so, it will be almost impossible to completely contain the virus with “a large number of people from different countries and regions” all arriving at the same time, admitted Han Zirong, vice president and secretary-general of the Beijing organizing committee.

People line up for tests in Xi'an.
People line up for tests in Xi’an.
AP

“Consequently, a certain number of positive cases will become a high probability event,” Zirong also conceded.

Thursday’s lockdown in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, is just the latest reflection of China’s drastic “zero tolerance” policy, which Beijing claims has mostly contained the spread of the virus.

Despite the contagion first emerging there, China had by Thursday reported just 4,849 deaths and 113,299 cases — a tiny fraction of the more than 812,000 deaths and 51.5 million cases reported by the US.

With Post wires