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China locks down city of 9 million amid biggest COVID-19 outbreak in 2 years

China locks down city of 9 million amid biggest COVID-19 outbreak in 2 years
China locked down the city of Changchun on Friday amid the country's largest outbreak of COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 11 (UPI) -- Chinese authorities sent a northeastern city of nine million people into lockdown on Friday as the country has seen daily COVID-19 cases top 1,000 this week for the first time since the early days of the pandemic, which originated in Wuhan.

The residents of Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province, have been ordered to stay at home while all non-essential businesses and stores are shuttered, state-run media said on Friday. Schools will be closed and all transportation services will be suspended under the indefinite shutdown, the state-run Global Times reported.

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One person from each household will be allowed to go out once every two days to buy supplies as the city undergoes a scheduled three rounds of mass testing.

China's National Health Commission reported 1,369 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, with Jilin Province one of the hardest-hit areas during a recent surge driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

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Other cities have also started taking measures with targeted lockdowns, including Shanghai, which ordered all schools to move to online classes starting on Saturday.

The latest outbreak is putting China's "zero-COVID" approach to controlling the spread of the virus to its sternest test yet. The government has managed to limit outbreaks through mass testing, shutdowns and tight border controls.

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China kept cases to a minimum during the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February, using a closed-loop system that kept all participants separated from the general public.

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However, the Omicron variant has proved extraordinarily difficult to contain and many countries have shifted towards a strategy of opening up and living with the virus even as case counts skyrocket.

Hong Kong, which has also followed a zero-tolerance playbook, has been facing an "unprecedented health crisis" of soaring case counts and the world's highest COVID death rates in recent weeks.

On Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang defended China's "coordinated approach to COVID response and economic and social development" while answering questions at a press conference. Li said that officials would work to make the response "more scientific and targeted based on the current situation," but did not offer a timeline for any changes.

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