China races to contain COVID outbreaks in tourism hubs Tibet, Hainan
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[August 09, 2022]
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) -China
raced on Tuesday to stamp out COVID-19 outbreaks in the tourist hubs of
Tibet and Hainan, with the authorities launching more rounds of mass
testing and closing venues to contain the highly transmissible Omicron
Mainland China reported 828 new domestically transmitted cases across
more than a dozen provinces and regions for Aug. 8, with over half of
them in Hainan, a highly popular tourist destination, official data
showed on Tuesday.
Tibet, which until now had reported only one symptomatic case since the
pandemic started more than two years ago, has also reported cases.
Parts of Tibet were running mass COVID-19 testing on Tuesday, including
its two largest cities Lhasa and Shigatse, where local authorities
suspended large events, closed entertainment and religious venues, and
shut some tourist sites including the Potala Palace.
Tibetan authorities reported one local patient with confirmed symptoms
and 21 local asymptomatic infections on Aug. 8. While the case load was
very small compared with elsewhere in China and globally, the rare
infections struck a nerve among some residents.
"Although my life and work aren't affected much and Lhasa took actions
very quickly, I was still quite shocked, as Tibet had been COVID-free
for about 920 days," said Yungchen, a 26-year-old Lhasa resident, who
was told by her employer to work from home.
"I was a bit worried, because we don't know when and where the infected
people contracted the virus," she told Reuters, preferring not to give
her full name.
Yungchen said she doesn't expect a Shanghai-style months-long lockdown
in Lhasa, but still bought rice and cooking oil. She bought enough to
last four to five days in case she is unable to dine out if COVID
restrictions are tightened.
Shigatse, gateway city to the Everest region in Tibet, has scheduled a
"silent period" lasting three days during which people are banned from
entering or leaving, with many businesses suspended.
Both Lhasa and Shigatse were conducting a fresh round of mass testing,
and the second round begins on Wednesday, state television said on
In Tibet's western Ngari prefecture, a sparsely populated region that
has attracted many pilgrims to Mount Kailash, three towns have started
three rounds of mass testing, while the rest have started on their
first, state television said.
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People line up at a nucleic acid testing site amid lockdown measures
to curb the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sanya, Hainan
province, China August 6, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS
Subvariants of Omicron are challenging China's strategy of swiftly
blocking the spread of each nascent cluster.
Tibet and Hainan, which have seen relatively few cases for more than
two years, are now facing risks of persistent tight restrictions as
the economy weakens. Their tourism-reliant economies could be
particularly vulnerable if the outbreaks are prolonged.
In 2019, Tibet received a record 39.6 million
domestic tourists drawn to its unspoiled natural scenery and promise
of adventure travel. That was comparable to the 40.9 million
international tourist arrivals to the United Kingdom that year.
In tropical Hainan, millions of residents are under lockdown across
several cities and towns, allowed out only for necessary reasons
such as COVID tests, grocery shopping and essential job roles.
Dongfang, a city of over 400,000 residents, entered a three-day
lockdown starting on Tuesday. The provincial capital Haikou has
lifted its lockdown that lasted hours on Monday.
Around 178,000 tourists are also stranded on the island, according
to state media reports. Hainan said on Tuesday certain tourists are
allowed to leave if they can show negative test results.
Provincial authorities must adopt all measures to achieve by Friday
"COVID zero at the community level" where no new cases emerge in
communities outside quarantined areas, Hainan's government said in a
statement late on Monday.
Hainan's success in containing smaller clusters in April and July
has resulted in complacency among officials and residents, one
provincial health official said.
"We still have many shortcomings and weaknesses in COVID
epidemiologic investigation, testing and treatment," Zhou Changqiang,
the head of Hainan's health commission, told state television late
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Ryan Woo and Shanghai newsroom; Editing
by Lincoln Feast and Jacqueline Wong)
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