BEIJING/SHANGHAI: China's Hainan, an island province dependent on tourism, locked down more areas on Monday (Aug 8), Reuters calculations based on state media reports show, as it battles its worst COVID-19 outbreak after seeing very few cases over the past two years.
The island in the South China Sea, which recorded just two local symptomatic COVID-19 cases last year, has reported more than 1,400 domestically transmitted infections this month, including 982 symptomatic ones. Although that is small by global standards, it is the province's biggest outbreak since the virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The sharp increase in cases comes amid a pick-up in interest in tourism after China slightly eased curbs aimed at domestic travel, accounting for the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant, which facilitates a shorter quarantine time.
However, the curbs in Hainan, in line with China's "dynamic COVID-zero" policy that aims to stamp out outbreaks as soon as possible, points to the persistent uncertainty shrouding travel and may further dampen confidence in the tourism and hospitality sectors that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 restrictions.
The provincial capital city of Haikou, with about 2.9 million residents, and two smaller towns, Ledong and Chengmai, locked down its residents on Monday, according to state media reports.
At least nine cities and towns, with a combined population of around 7 million, said their residents must not go beyond where they live, unless for necessary reasons such as COVID-19 tests, grocery shopping or to fulfil essential job roles.
They suspended various public transport services.
The measures will stay in place for varying periods, with the shortest scheduled for a few hours, state media reports show.
Around 25,000 tourists were stranded in Sanya, the hardest-hit city in Hainan's outbreak and the island's key tourist hub, as of Sunday. Although cities have said tourists can leave after COVID-19 tests, many were frustrated about the disruption to their plans.
"We've had four flights cancelled. Our new one is on Sunday, hopefully," said Kyle, a 28-year-old teacher, whose first attempt to take a holiday after 2.5 years in China has left him stuck in Sanya, where people were lining up in the rain for COVID-19 tests on Monday.
"If you're travelling in general in China, you should kind of be aware of what could happen. If you don't consider that, then you should probably just not go in the first place," he told Reuters.
In Qionghai city, scheduled to be locked down for three days, all flights at the Qionghai Boao Airport scheduled on Monday were cancelled on "public security reasons".
Chinese stocks in tourism, transport and consumer staples all retreated on Monday, with China Tourism Group Duty Free Corp down 4.7 per cent. Sanya began closing duty-free malls last week.
The lockdowns also dashed hopes for a quick rebound for the country's ailing aviation sector, which had counted on a summer travel boom to help trim record losses.
Hainan Airlines shares fell 1.5 per cent on Monday, hovering around the lowest level since February last year, when the airline was in the midst of a restructuring to settle a multi-year liquidity crisis.
The airline said in July that its first half net loss is expected to expand to 11.95 billion yuan to 12.96 billion yuan (US$1.77 billion to US$1.92 billion) from 880.9 million yuan a year earlier.
Nationwide, China reported 807 locally transmitted COVID-19 infections for Aug 7, of which 324 were symptomatic and 483 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said.
There were no new deaths, keeping the nation's fatalities unchanged at 5,226.
As of Sunday, mainland China had confirmed 231,266 cases with symptoms, including both local patients and symptomatic international travellers.
China's capital, Beijing, reported two new local symptomatic cases for Aug 7, while Shanghai and the southern technology hub of Shenzhen reported no new local cases.