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BEIJING: Millions of people across China endured lockdowns on Sunday as virus cases doubled to nearly 3,400 and anxiety mounted over the resilience of the country’s ‘zero-Covid’ approach in the face of the worst outbreak in two years.

The nationwide case surge has prompted authorities to close schools in Shanghai and lock down central neighbourhoods in southern tech powerhouse Shenzhen as well as whole northeastern cities, as almost 18 provinces battle clusters of the Omicron and Delta variants.

In China’s most populous metropolis Shanghai, individual housing compounds were being locked down one by one as the city ramped up efforts to contain infections and test suspected close contacts.

Jilin — the city at the centre of the outbreak in the northeast — was partially locked down Saturday, while residents of Yanji, an urban area of nearly 700,000 bordering North Korea, were confined to their homes Sunday.

China, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, has maintained a strict ‘zero-Covid’ policy enforced by swift lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing when clusters have emerged.

But the latest flare-up, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant and a spike in asymptomatic cases, is testing the efficacy of that approach.

Zhang Yan, a Jilin health commission official, conceded that the response from local authorities had been lacking.

“The emergency response mechanism in some areas is not robust enough,” he said at a Sunday press briefing.

“There is insufficient understanding of the characteristics of the Omicron variant… and judgment has been inaccurate.”

Residents of Jilin have completed six rounds of mass testing, with the city reporting more than 2,200 cases of the Omicron variant since Saturday.

The neighbouring city of Changchun — an industrial base of nine million people — was locked down Friday, while at least three other small cities have been locked down since March 1.

China allows self-use COVID antigen tests as local cases hit two-year high

The mayor of Jilin and the head of the Changchun health commission were dismissed from their jobs Saturday, state media reported, in a sign of the pressure placed on local authorities to contain virus clusters.

Covid-zero?

But the strain is showing, with officials increasingly urging softer and more targeted measures to contain the virus, while economists warn tough clampdowns are hurting the economy.

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