SCHOOL TEST This Aug. 28, 2022 file photo shows a medical worker in protective gear taking a swab sample from a college freshman for nucleic acid testing at Peking University in China’s capital Beijing. XINHUA PHOTO
SCHOOL TEST This Aug. 28, 2022 file photo shows a medical worker in protective gear taking a swab sample from a college freshman for nucleic acid testing at Peking University in China’s capital Beijing. XINHUA PHOTO

BEIJING: Millions of people in areas surrounding Beijing were ordered to lock down on Tuesday, with authorities doubling down on efforts to contain Covid-19 ahead of a key meeting of the ruling Communist Party of China this year.

Nearly four million people in northern Hebei province, which surrounds the Chinese capital, were ordered to stay home until the end of the week as officials rush to curb a small coronavirus flare-up.

And more than 13 million in the neighboring port city of Tianjin must undergo mass testing from 6 a.m. after 51 mostly mild cases were reported.

China is the only major global economy sticking to a zero-Covid policy that involves imposing snap lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing, which have disrupted businesses and cooled growth.

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Beijing has doubled down on the policy ahead of the Communist Party's 20th National Congress, which is expected to take place within the next three months.

The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is widely seen as central to the political legacy of President Xi Jinping, who is set to be anointed for an unprecedented third term in office at the meeting.

But "the actual Covid situation in China might be worsening, as Omicron has once again spread to large cities," Nomura analyst Ting Lu warned in a research note, referring to the highly contagious coronavirus variant.

Chengdu, western China's largest city, has also seen strict travel restrictions.

And in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen, two districts are under partial lockdown while the world's biggest electronics market in Huaqiangbei was closed despite just 35 daily cases being reported in the city of over 18 million.

"The notice to close came abruptly. We only had a few hours to put our stock into warehouses and lock up," a trader at Huaqiangbei, who only offered his last name Chen, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

In the Futian district, where the Shenzhen city government is located, cinemas, karaoke bars and parks are closed until Friday and large public events have been canceled.

Officials also sealed off the Wanxia neighborhood on the city's outskirts, which offers affordable housing for delivery drivers and migrant workers, although no case was reported there.

The lockdowns come as China's National Health Commission reported 1,717 new coronavirus cases as of Monday. Of these, 349 were symptomatic and 1,368 were not. Of the symptomatic, 167 were found in southwestern Sichuan province; of those asymptomatic, 645 were in Tibet and 109 in Sichuan.

A total of 547 Covid-19 patients confined in hospitals have recovered and were released, bringing the overall recovery tally to 230,980.

WITH XINHUA