China has locked down a city of 11 million people in its northern province of Hebei, in an effort to contain the country’s worst coronavirus flare-up in months.
Residents of Shijiazhuang, a provincial capital close to Beijing, have been barred from leaving the city, as major highways were blocked, train and bus stations closed and flights canceled.
The lockdown comes as a total of 117 Covid-19 infections — including 67 asymptomatic cases — were detected in Shijiazhuang on Wednesday. Nationwide, China reported 123 local infections for Wednesday, the highest since late October.
On Thursday, Shijiazhuang identified another 66 positive cases, according to the Hebei provincial health commission.
Since January 2, a total of 304 positive cases have been reported in Hebei — most of which were in Shijiazhuang, official figures show. The city is located just 180 miles (289.6 kilometers) southwest of Beijing — about three hours’ drive away, or an hour on the high-speed rail.
At a press conference Thursday, municipal officials announced a ban on outbound travel for all residents and vehicles from Shijiazhuang, except for emergencies.
Within the city, gatherings are banned, all schools have been suspended, and residential communities and villages are also closed off.
The restrictions are some of the strictest imposed in China since the country largely contained the spread of the coronavirus in March. They are reminiscent of the draconian lockdown during the initial outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in December 2019.
The outbreak in Shijiazhuang comes just weeks before the Lunar New Year holiday, the most important annual festival in China which typically sees millions of people traveling home to reunite with family.
Last year, the Chinese government sealed off Wuhan two days before the Lunar New Year, but millions of people had already left the city, potentially carrying the virus with them to their hometowns across the country.