Home U.S China orders more than a million people near Beijing to stay in...

China orders more than a million people near Beijing to stay in their homes

46
0


China has ordered more than a million people near Beijing to stay in their homes over a handful of coronavirus cases, just a week before the Winter Olympics begins.

Authorities locked down the area that neighbours the capital, but made no public announcement about the fresh restrictions.

Around 1.2 million people in Xiong’an New Area – a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing – are no longer allowed to enter or leave their residential compounds, local virus prevention staff confirmed to AFP on Friday.

While recent lockdowns in China were publicly announced and widely reported by state media, the Xiong’an restrictions appear to have been introduced by stealth with no announcements – sparking confusion among some residents of the area.

‘We expect this (lockdown) to last around a week, but the exact timing is uncertain,’ said virus prevention staff in Xiong County, one of three counties in the area.

Olympic staff wearing protective gear works inside the National Indoor Stadium, venue of the ice hockey tournaments of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, on Friday. Beijing is desperately trying to keep Covid-19 numbers down ahead of the games next week

Olympic staff wearing protective gear works inside the National Indoor Stadium, venue of the ice hockey tournaments of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, on Friday. Beijing is desperately trying to keep Covid-19 numbers down ahead of the games next week

The restrictions kicked in on Tuesday, they added – the same day authorities in another district noted five confirmed coronavirus infections had been found to date.

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing. 

Cities such as Xi’an and Anyang have experienced hard lockdowns in recent weeks, with residents confined to their homes until multiple rounds of mass testing are completed and the outbreak suppressed.

Some users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo were seen asking for further information about restrictions, while others questioned the extent of measures.

‘Is there a need? Why can’t we go home if the area is deemed low-risk? Don’t make this one-size-fits-all,’ said a Weibo user this week.

Another said Thursday: ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to go home for the Lunar New Year.’

While there have been a number of national-level ‘New Areas’ across China, Xiong’an stands out with its location personally designated by President Xi Jinping, according to state media.

China, where the coronavirus first emerged, has upheld a strict ‘zero-Covid’ strategy involving targeted lockdowns, tight border controls and mass testing.

Its reported case numbers are tiny in comparison to the rest of the world.

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing (pictured on Friday)

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing (pictured on Friday)

A month-long lockdown on the megacity of Xi’an was lifted earlier this week after a cluster that grew to more than 2,100 cases – China’s largest outbreak in months – was largely stamped out.

But stubborn flare-ups have persisted, including in Beijing and the nearby port city of Tianjin.

China reported 39 domestic Covid cases on Friday. 

The Winter Olympics, which is being diplomatically shunned by some Western nations citing China’s human rights record, will be held in a strict ‘closed loop’ bubble that separates everyone involved in the Games from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections leaking out.

Under the Covid rules, thousands of athletes, journalists and coaching staff arriving from overseas for the Winter Olympics are having to isolate from the general public for the entirety of the Games.

Xiong’an New Area 

The Xiong’an New Area is a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing – in the Baoding area of Hebei.

Formed in April 2017, its main purpose is to serve as a development hub for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle.

While there have been a number of national-level ‘New Areas’ across China, Xiong’an stands out with its location personally designated by President Xi Jinping, according to state media.

Anyone who comes from abroad is taken from the Beijing airport in special vehicles to a hotel surrounded by temporary barricades that keep participants in and the public out.

‘I know the only experience of Beijing I’m going to experience is the Beijing I will see out of my bus window and my hotel window,’ said Associated Press photo editor Yirmiyan Arthur, who arrived this week. 

The experiences of journalists who have arrived or are preparing to depart offers a glimpse into life inside the bubble ahead of the Games which start next week.

Photographer Jae Hong said he had been warned about the bubble but seeing it in effect in Beijing was still a shock.

He described seeing passengers met by workers in white, full-body protective gear.

Everyone is tested for Covid-19 at the airport before being transported to their barricaded hotels, the entrances protected by round-the-clock guards.

Organisers want to keep any infections from getting out of the bubble, as well as spreading within the bubble, a heightened concern with the easily transmissible omicron variant.

Everyone is tested daily — failing to get tested the previous evening means being stuck in your hotel the next day.

So far, organisers said Thursday there have been 129 positive tests among the 4,046 people who have arrived for the Games. Of those, two are either athletes or team officials.

The rest are other participants such as the media. Those who test positive are taken to a hospital if they have symptoms or a quarantine hotel if they do not.

Even getting to China can be worrying, requiring multiple negative COVID-19 tests entered into an app that displays your health status.

That kept Arthur on edge during her journey from New Delhi to Beijing via Tokyo.

A colleague who had already arrived in Beijing helped her download the app. Then she saw the health workers in biohazard suits after she got off the plane.

‘In the airport it’s a bit scary, it’s almost like a hospital that was treating COVID patients in the second wave,’ she said, referring to India’s devastating surge in March 2021.

Tokyo also had strict rules for the Summer Olympics last year, but participants were allowed outside of the bubble after two weeks.

AP video journalist Johnson Lai, who has yet to depart for the Olympics, is facing stress because China has no formal relations with Taiwan, his self-governing homeland that Beijing claims as its own territory.

That meant he was unable to complete the form in the Olympics app to get a code, which requires a test conducted at a China-approved hospital. ‘There’s a lot of uncertain matters that we can’t control,’ he said. 

Outside the bubble, Beijing authorities locked down more neighbourhoods in the city’s Fengtai district on Thursday as they try to snuff out a delta variant outbreak that has infected about 70 people.

China has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy under which it quickly locks down affected areas and conducts mass testing of residents to find infections and isolate them.

All 2 million residents of Fengtai are undergoing a third round of testing since last weekend.

The Beijing outbreak has spread to neighbouring provinces. After four cases were reported in the city of Langfang, just south of Beijing in Hebei province, authorities suspended travel between the cities to try to prevent further spread.

Meanwhile, China has revealed a list of visiting dignitaries for next week’s Winter Olympics that includes the leaders of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt for an event that is being diplomatically shunned by some Western nations. 

Many Western nations have have announced a diplomatic boycott, citing China’s human rights record, in particular its crackdown on Muslim Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang that the United States has labelled ‘genocide’. 

The Winter Olympics will be held in a strict'closed loop' bubble that separates everyone involved in from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections

The Winter Olympics will be held in a strict ‘closed loop’ bubble that separates everyone involved in from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections

Beijing is keen to shore up international support for the Games, which are the most politicised in recent memory. 

State broadcaster CCTV released an updated guest list for next Friday’s opening ceremony which includes many of China’s neighbours, a host of royals and leaders from key autocratic nations.

Among the more than 20 foreign visitors on the list are Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin was last year the first foreign leader to confirm his presence at the Beijing Olympics and is included on the list released Friday.

The dignitaries will attend the February 4 opening ceremony, a welcome banquet and ‘relevant bilateral activities’ with Xi, CCTV reported.

Their presence comes despite the US-led diplomatic boycott by countries including Britain, Canada, Australia and Denmark over China’s rights record.

Other nations such as Japan are not sending officials and have voiced concerns about human rights in China while steering clear of formally announcing they are part of the boycott.

Some Western countries such as the Netherlands have refused to send officials over China’s strict pandemic travel restrictions.

Human rights groups have long accused Sisi, Prince Mohammed and Putin of rights abuses in their countries.

The list released by CCTV also includes leaders from China’s mostly authoritarian Central Asian neighbours as well as the Emir of Qatar and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed.

Many Western nations have have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, citing China's human rights record. Pictured: Staff get National Swimming Centre ready

Many Western nations have have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, citing China’s human rights record. Pictured: Staff get National Swimming Centre ready

Other royals include Thailand’s Princess Sirindhorn and Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Confirmed European invitees include Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are among global institution leaders coming to the Games.

The arrival of the dignitaries will kick off a flurry of face-to-face diplomatic activity for Xi, who has remained in China throughout the coronavirus pandemic as the country pursues a strict zero-Covid strategy.

Xi received International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach in Beijing earlier this week – his first face-to-face meeting with a visiting foreign official in two years.

Critics of the IOC’s decision to award the Winter Games to Beijing have long cited China’s rights record.

Scrutiny of a host country increases in the run-up to any Olympics but China under Xi has become palpably more authoritarian and muscular on the world stage.

Compared to the 2008 Summer Olympics, China’s relations with Western powers and many of its neighbours are much more fraught.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims have been incarcerated in Xinjiang. China denies genocide or the existence of forced labour camps.

It says a vast network of camps that have been built there are ‘vocational training centres’ to support employment and fight religious extremism.

An ongoing political crackdown in Hong Kong has also strained ties with many Western powers.

China’s history of tech surveillance has also weighed on the build-up to the Games, with some countries and cybersecurity researchers telling athletes and others attending to take temporary phones and laptops.

Beijing has dismissed those concerns and accused the United States and other Western powers of ‘politicising’ the Olympics.

Previous articleArsenal: Paul Merson believes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could still have a role to play
Next article'Not President of the EU!' Posturing Emmanuel Macron mocked for inflating 'symbolic' role

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here