Chinese authorities lifted a monthlong lockdown on the northern city of Xi'an and its 13 million residents Monday as infections subside ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in less than two weeks.
Meanwhile, the 2 million residents of one Beijing district have been ordered to undergo testing following a series of cases in the capital.
The government told people in areas of Beijing deemed at high risk for infection not to leave the city after 25 cases were found in the Fengtai district and 14 elsewhere.
Fengtai residents have lined up on snow-covered sidewalks in freezing weather for testing. The Olympics are being held under strict controls that are meant to isolate athletes, staff, reporters and officials from residents. Athletes are required to be vaccinated or undergo a quarantine after arriving in China.
The announcement by Xi'an's government Monday followed the restart of commercial flights from the city the day before. The major industrial center and former imperial capital, famed as the home of the Terracotta Warrior statue army, had struggled to keep residents fed and the local economy alive while people were confined to their homes.
Xi'an has been a cornerstone of the ruling Communist Party's “zero tolerance” strategy toward COVID-19 that mandates lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing whenever a case is discovered.
Xi'an is about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Beijing, where the Olympics open Feb. 4. Access to Xi'an was suspended Dec. 22 following an outbreak attributed to the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Other outbreaks prompted the government to impose travel bans on a number of cities, including the port of Tianjin, about an hour from Beijing. The stiff regulations are credited with preventing major nationwide outbreaks and China has reported relatively few cases of the highly infectious omicron variant.
China on Monday reported just 18 new cases of local infection, including six in Beijing. The country has 2,754 current cases of infection and has reported a total of 105,660 cases of COVID-19 with 4,636 deaths.
Despite falling case numbers, pandemic controls have been stepped up ahead of the Olympics, where all participants must be tested before and after their arrival in Beijing.
Organisers on Monday said 39 people among the 2,586 athletes, team officials and others who arrived after Jan. 4 had tested positive for the virus upon landing at Beijing airport. Another 33 people who had already entered the bubble isolating participants from the general public later tested positive, the organizing committee said on its website.
The statement did not identify those who tested positive other than to say they were “outside stakeholders," a term that excludes athletes or coaches. China mandates 21 days of quarantine for people arriving from abroad, but had waived that for those coming for the Olympics on condition they tested negative for the virus.