Dec. 24 (UPI) — Chinese authorities placed Xi’an, a northwestern city of 13 million, under lockdown Thursday in an effort to contain a COVID-19 outbreak as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics in six weeks.
Xi’an has recorded 234 confirmed cases since Dec. 9, with a single-day high of 127 cases reported on Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said.
In response, officials issued stay-at-home orders to residents and canceled all domestic flights, restricting travel in and out of the city without permission.
One member of each household will be able to shop for groceries and other necessities once every two days, while restaurants and non-essential businesses have been shuttered, according to the new rules.
The rising cases triggered panic buying on Wednesday, state-run Global Times reported, with customers rushing to stock up on essentials even as local officials issued assurances that there were ample supplies of food and cooking oil.
The outbreak, which was triggered by the Delta variant, has spread to at least four other cities, officials said, including Beijing — which is hosting the Olympics from Feb. 4-20.
China has recorded just a handful of cases caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant so far, but Olympics officials said Thursday that they are bracing for its impact on the Games.
“We are likely to see a small scale of infections,” Huang Chun, Deputy Director for pandemic prevention with the Beijing organizing committee, said at a press conference. “The risk of transmission is quite high, but we are fully prepared for that.”
Organizers have devised strict controls to keep COVID-19 in check. Foreign spectators will not be allowed, while all athletes and participants will be tested daily and kept in a closed-loop system that will bypass all contact with the public for the duration of the Games.
Beijing organizers have said that spectators from mainland China will be permitted, but have not yet confirmed any details.
“We are making plans [about spectators] and we will release that information in due course,” Han Zirong, Vice Chairman of the organizing committee said on Thursday.
The pandemic dealt a blow to the Olympics on Wednesday when the National Hockey League announced that its players would skip the Games to make up games postponed by COVID-19. It will be the first time that no NHL players will participate in a Winter Olympics since 1994.
China previously locked down the city of Wuhan, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, for more than two months. While the size of the Xi’an spread is small relative to many countries, China has held onto the world’s most stringent zero-COVID policy — maintaining widespread testing, heavily controlled borders, lengthy quarantines and snap lockdowns.