BEIJING: China’s megacity of Xi’an has partially resumed public transport, according to official announcements, after millions of people were confined to their homes for weeks due to a coronavirus outbreak.
The relaxation of transport rules – including the resumption of some intercity rail links – comes just before the Chinese New Year holiday later this month, traditionally a time of mass travel.
Chinese authorities have pursued a strict “zero-COVID” approach to containing the virus, with strict border restrictions and targeted lockdowns, a strategy that has come under pressure as several clusters erupted across the country ahead of the Olympics winter next month.
Some 13 million residents of Xi’an were placed in quarantine in mid-December as cases rose, but the historic city reported no new local cases on Wednesday for the first time in weeks.
Local authorities said public transport had resumed in “low risk” areas from Tuesday January 18.
Trains from Xi’an to popular destinations such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have also “basically resumed operations”, state broadcaster CCTV said on Wednesday.
CCTV added that the number of commuters at city stations – mainly students and migrant workers – was also increasing.
The outbreak in Xi’an was the largest in China in months.
Local authorities have been criticized for the way they have handled it – with supply issues and medical tragedies affecting residents, including a pregnant woman who miscarried after being refused access to a hospital because she did not have a recent coronavirus test.
Wednesday’s absence of cases suggests the current outbreak is under control.
But other outbreaks involving both the Delta and Omicron variants have since emerged in Beijing, the eastern port city of Tianjin and the southern manufacturing hub of Guangdong.
Beijing’s outbreak, which is currently limited to a handful of reported cases, is significant, with the capital due to host the Winter Olympics in just weeks.
International delegates, media and some athletes have already started arriving for the Games, which will take place in a strict bubble that separates anyone involved in the Olympics from the general population.
With several local cases reported in Beijing, schools have started their Chinese New Year holidays earlier than expected, according to reports.