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Emptied villages. Locked campuses. How China battles a COVID-19 resurgence

Alice Su, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Contact tracing data released by authorities showed that many of the initial Hebei cases were linked to village weddings, including one in a hotel across from Shijiazhuang airport. Some villagers in Xiaoguozhuang also reportedly worked as janitors or luggage handlers at that airport, one of the designated entry ports for international travelers.

Authorities said there was no link between the Hebei outbreak and a more infectious strain of the coronavirus from the United Kingdom. But new strains similar to ones found in the U.K. and South Africa have been discovered in several other provinces.

Four additional Hebei cities and counties announced seven-day stay-at-home orders on Tuesday. A county in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang was also locked down Tuesday because of 20 asymptomatic cases. Some districts in Beijing have been subject to movement restrictions as well.

Kevin Meng, an apartment rental agent who works in Beijing but lives on the city’s outskirts in Hebei, said he had been blocked in recent days from entering Beijing despite having tested negative for the virus.

Meng, 33, said he’d been stopped at a checkpoint because he is registered as a resident of Xingtai, though he had not visited recently. Authorities consider Xingtai an outbreak hot spot because 26 locally transmitted cases have been found there this month.

Meng’s parents were locked down in their village in Xingtai, he said, unable to go outside their homes while the village leaders marched around shouting at anyone who ventured outside. “It’s basically the same as last year,” he said.

A Shijiazhuang high schooler, Zizy Li, told The Times that she was locked down on her campus. The heat wasn’t working well, and only three teachers were with her and other students. The students had no cellphones and lived on a rigid schedule, rising at 6 a.m., sleeping at 10:30 p.m., and studying every day with no weekends.

 

“The government gave notice that no one can move for unnecessary reasons. Even if your family member dies you can’t move,” Li said. Some students were crying, homesick, expecting they’d be locked down at least two weeks and possibly past the Spring Festival. But Li said she was fine, aside from stress about an upcoming major exam that she’d have to take in quarantine.

Lucy Qin, 38, an insurance agent living in Shijiazhuang’s Chang’an district, said lockdown conditions varied among residential compounds. Some people were not allowed to leave their buildings, but she was able to walk within the gated community. There had been a rush to buy groceries and some anxiety about shortage, she said, but by the fourth day of lockdown, they’d gotten all they needed.

“I’m feeling calm,” she said. “I think this should be within the government’s control.”

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(Ziyu Yang of The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.)

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