A lockdown was imposed in China's northwestern city of Xi'an starting Thursday in the wake of rising coronavirus cases just as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February, local media reported.
The holiday season when millions of people return home and visit tourist places could complicate the situation further.
In Xi'an, 127 new virus cases were confirmed on Thursday forcing the authorities to impose a lockdown. Citizens are expected to stay at home with only one person in a family allowed to step out for necessary shopping. Public transportation, including buses, trains, and flights, are off-limits.
At least 765 domestic flights that were scheduled on Thursday have been canceled.
More than 3,500 schools have been closed, affecting over 2 million students and staff.
Health authorities in Xi’an are holding the third round of mass testing since the first case was reported on Dec. 9.
“All the positive cases have been transferred to designated medical institutions for diagnosis and treatment,” Chinese state-run Xinhua News reported.
The local authorities have divided the city into one high-risk and 40 medium-risk regions.
Yang Zhanqiu, an official at Wuhan University, told Chinese daily Global Times: “The key reason for the lockdown lies in the scale of community transmission in Xi'an and unclear epidemiological routes - the outbreak has demonstrated at least three transmission chains.”
“Facing the pressure of the upcoming New Year and Spring Festival travel rush, lockdown is necessary to contain the emerging epidemic within a small scale,” Yang said.
Local health officials have said the epidemic, characterized by the Delta strain, has entered its peak period.
Later this weekend, around 135,000 students will sit for the postgraduate examinations in Xi'an.
Vice premier Sun Chunlan has asked the authorities “to ensure the safety of teachers and students.”