China's Hainan expands COVID lockdowns to more areas to quell outbreak

AFP

China's Hainan, an island province dependent on tourism, locked down more areas on Monday, Reuters calculations based on state media reports show, as it battles its worst COVID-19 outbreak after seeing very few cases over the past two years.

The island in the South China Sea, which recorded just two local symptomatic COVID cases last year, has reported more than 1,400 domestically transmitted infections this month, including 982 symptomatic ones. While that is small by global standards, it is the province's biggest outbreak since the virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

The spike in cases comes amid a pick-up in interest in tourism after China eased curbs aimed at domestic travel, accounting for the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant that facilitates a shorter quarantine time. 

However, the curbs in Hainan, in line with China's "dynamic COVID-zero" policy that aims to stamp out outbreaks as soon as possible, points to the persistent uncertainty shrouding travel and may further dampen confidence in the tourism and hospitality sectors that are particularly vulnerable to COVID restrictions.

One city and two towns entered lockdown in Hainan on Monday, according to Reuters calculations based on state media reports.

A total of at least eight cities and towns, with a combined population of around 7 million, said their residents must not go beyond where they live, unless for necessary reasons such as COVID tests, grocery shopping or to fulfil essential job roles.

They suspended various public transport services.

The measures will stay in place for a few hours to several days in some places, while others did not specify when they plan to lift the curbs, state media reports show.

Around 25,000 tourists were stranded in Sanya, the hardest-hit city in Hainan's outbreak and the island's key tourist hub, as of Sunday. Although cities have said tourists can leave after COVID tests, many were frustrated about the disruption to their plans. 

In Qionghai city, scheduled to be locked down for three days, all flights at the Qionghai Boao Airport scheduled on Monday were cancelled on "public security reasons".

Nationwide, China reported 807 locally transmitted COVID infections for August 7, of which were 324 symptomatic and 483 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said.

There were no new deaths, keeping the nation's fatalities unchanged at 5,226.

As of Sunday, mainland China had confirmed 231,266 cases with symptoms, including both local patients and symptomatic international travellers.

China's capital Beijing reported two new local symptomatic cases for August 7, while Shanghai and the southern technology hub of Shenzhen reported no new local cases.

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