Covid lockdown strands 80,000 tourists in 'China's Hawaii'
By Simone McCarthy and CNN's Beijing bureau
Public transportation was suspended and people's movements inside the city were restricted from early Saturday morning, authorities said. Stranded tourists are required to stay for seven days and clear five Covid-19 tests before leaving.
Deputy mayor He Shigang on Friday said around 80,000 tourists remained in the city. All those currently in Sanya as well as people who have been to the city since July 23 were not allowed to leave Hainan province after 6pm local time on Saturday, provincial authorities said.
The restrictions come at the height of the summer tourism season for the island province, a popular destination often called China's Hawaii for its sandy beaches, tropical forests and high-end hotels.
Over 80% of flights leaving Sanya were cancelled on Saturday, according to data from flight tracking company Variflight. All trains departing from Sanya were canceled, state broadcaster CCTV said Saturday.
Authorities in Sanya acknowledged the inconvenience to tourists and pledged during a Saturday afternoon press conference to do their best to solve issues that arise, including streamlining travel booking cancellations and offering half-price discounts on hotel stays for stranded tourists in Sanya.
The city was divided into high and medium risk zones, with control measures varying depending on risk-level, according to local officials. The whole city, however, was considered under "static management" -- an official term used to describe the deployment of lockdown measures.
The city, which lies at the southern tip of Hainan island, has recorded 827 cases between August 1 and midnight on Saturday, including 240 confirmed cases and 173 asymptomatic infections on Saturday, according to an announcement from provincial health authorities Sunday morning. China counts symptomatic and asymptomatic cases separately.
Saturday's numbers make the outbreak the most severe in China, which reported a total of 736 confirmed and asymptomatic local cases nationally for that day.
Authorities have said they detected the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5.1.3 subvariant in the outbreak, which they believe was spread to the island via contact with overseas seafood dealers in Sanya's Yazhou fishing port.
Hainan's provincial authorities on Saturday also announced province-wide nucleic acid testing for its population of 10 million, as cases have been reported in other parts of the island.
Another city in Hainan, Danzhou, announced partial lockdown measures for its roughly 1 million residents on Saturday afternoon, according to an official bulletin, while authorities in Qionghai city on Sunday announced a raft of measures, closing most non-essential businesses and ordering its half a million residents to stay home unless necessary, effective that morning, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The latest measures come as China's economy struggles under its stringent "zero-Covid" policy, in which it aims to suppress the spread of infection via lockdowns, mass testing and tough border controls.
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