Officials have announced lockdowns in parts of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and shuttered the iconic Potala Palace, previously the winter home of Dalai Lamas, Tibetan Buddhist leaders, after a cluster of 18 Covid-19 cases were detected in the city.
Authorities on Monday also introduced curbs in Shigatse, Tibet’s second-largest city, for three days, cancelling large-scale events, closing leisure facilities and limiting inbound and outbound travel.
Lhasa, Shigatse and several other Tibetan towns began mass testing residents for the virus on Tuesday. State broadcaster CCTV reported that all of the Lhasa cases were the highly infectious Omicron variant of the virus.
Tibet had until recently been Covid-free and largely spared the strict lockdowns imposed elsewhere in China. The detection last week of four cases of the virus in Burang county, in the region’s west, was Tibet’s first outbreak since January 2020, which comprised just one recorded case.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has vowed to contain coronavirus with severe restrictions despite the economic consequences. The country’s economy grew by just 0.4 per cent year on year during the April to June quarter.
Economists have warned that China’s adherence to its zero-Covid policy, which has depressed spending and disrupted trade and travel, coupled with the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant, has put Beijing’s official annual growth target of about 5.5 per cent well out of reach.
But the government reaffirmed its commitment to the strategy this week, with state news agency Xinhua praising Xi’s role in orchestrating the fight against the Omicron variant. The commentary was featured on the front pages of many of the country’s leading news outlets on Tuesday.
“We must unswervingly uphold the principle of putting the people first, putting life first, upholding the scientific spirit, dynamic clearing and . . . controlling the spread of the virus,” the article quoted Xi as saying. “Dynamic clearing” is the country’s term for stamping out the virus.
The zero-Covid policy has hit popular tourist destinations this summer. Tens of thousands of holidaymakers have been stranded in “China’s Hawaii” after several cities in the southern island province of Hainan introduced lockdown measures at the weekend.
Hainan officials said on Monday evening that they hoped to eliminate community cases of the virus before Friday.
China reported 828 new local cases of the virus for Monday, of which 471 were in Hainan. A total of 22 new cases were logged in Tibet. There were also a further 146 cases found in the western Xinjiang region, mostly in the city of Ghulja, where authorities have locked down several areas.
The latest lockdowns were introduced as Hong Kong sought to begin its gradual reopening to the world. The city announced that it would reduce mandatory hotel quarantine for incoming travellers to three days from Friday, followed by four days of medical surveillance at home.
Hong Kong has maintained a regime of stringent Covid restrictions for more than two years, with quarantine at designated hotels at one point stretching to three weeks.
The city’s gross domestic product contracted 1.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2022, after a 3.9 per cent decline in the previous three-month period, its second technical recession in three years of the pandemic.