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.
This year, fearing that the Lunar New Year travels could again accelerate the spread of the virus, a growing number of local governments have advised residents against traveling home for the holiday, with civil servants and employees of state-owned companies ordered to stay unless special approval is given.
In Shijiazhuang, authorities declared last week that the city was entering a “wartime mode” to fight the spread of the virus. A city-wide coronavirus testing drive was soon rolled out for all of its 11 million residents.
On Thursday night, two medical teams — each with about 100 members — carrying testing kits and other equipments were dispatched from the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang to Shijiazhuang to assist the effort.
In addition, a hospital in the city has been cleared and designated to treat Covid-19 patients, with three more hospitals standing by, Meng said.
Swift and drastic measures such as mass testing, extensive contact tracing and strict lockdowns have defined China’s response to sporadic local…