China Zero-Covid: Xi’an closes again as country finds first cases of new Omicron subvariant BA.5.2

The city recorded 18 Covid infections from Saturday to Monday, all of which are of the Omicron BA.5.2 subvariant, local disease control officials said.

BA.5.2 is a sublineage of BA.5, which is already dominant in the US and appears to evade antibody responses in both people previously infected with Covid-19 and those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted, according to researchers.

It is the first time the subvariant has been reported in China, one of the last places in the world still adhering to a strict zero-Covid policy.

On Tuesday, Xi’an officials announced sweeping restrictions that would close parts of the city for seven days starting Wednesday.

Entertainment, sports and cultural facilities including bars, cinemas, gyms, libraries and museums have been closed; Restaurants and large gatherings, from weddings to conferences, have been suspended; All places of worship are closed and religious activities are banned, city official Zhang Xuedong said at Tuesday’s press conference.

According to Zhang, kindergartens and primary and secondary schools have been ordered to start summer vacation early, while universities have been ordered to lock down their campuses.

Authorities also locked down nine neighborhoods classified as “high risk areas” and barred residents from leaving their communities.

“The seven-day temporary control measures are designed to reassure society as much as possible, reduce mobility… and reduce the risk of cross-infection,” Zhang said.

The announcement caused a stir among some Xi’an residents, many of whom recalled the chaos of the city’s month-long strict lockdown between December and January.

During this citywide lockdown, a steady stream of complaints about food shortages, as well as heartbreaking scenes of critical patients – including heavily pregnant women – being denied medical care, caused shock and anger across the country.
On Tuesday evening, photos and videos posted by Xi’an residents on social media showed huge crowds of travelers – many with large bags and suitcases – outside the train station rushing to leave the city.
Xi'an's lockdown brings heartbreak and dysfunction as political pressure mounts to contain the outbreak
In Changan District, residents were ordered to undergo a mass test for Covid from midnight to 6am on Wednesday. According to a government statement, they are only allowed to leave their community, enter public places and use public transport after they have taken the tests.

As of Wednesday, Xi’an has reported 29 local infections.

Meanwhile, authorities in Shanghai on Tuesday ordered mass testing for 12 of its 16 districts in response to a handful of new infections linked to a karaoke bar.

Despite lifting a months-long lockdown on most of its 25 million residents in June, the financial hub is still subject to Covid restrictions ranging from frequent testing to targeted lockdowns.

The city reported 24 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases as of Wednesday.