China has ordered more than a million people near Beijing to stay in their homes over a handful of coronavirus cases, just a week before the Winter Olympics begins.

Authorities locked down the area that neighbours the capital, but unlike other lockdowns, no public announcement was made about the fresh restrictions.

Around 1.2 million people in Xiong’an New Area – a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing – are no longer allowed to enter or leave their residential compounds, local virus prevention staff confirmed to AFP on Friday.

While recent lockdowns in China were publicly announced and widely reported by state media, the Xiong’an restrictions appear to have been introduced by stealth with no announcements – sparking confusion among some residents of the area.

‘We expect this (lockdown) to last around a week, but the exact timing is uncertain,’ said virus prevention staff in Xiong County, one of three counties in the area.

Xiong'an went into lockdown without any official announcements. It is understood authorities set up roadblocks and told residents to return home. Pictured: Policemen control traffic at Anxin County after new Covid-19 cases were reported in Xiong'an New Area

Xiong'an went into lockdown without any official announcements. It is understood authorities set up roadblocks and told residents to return home. Pictured: Policemen control traffic at Anxin County after new Covid-19 cases were reported in Xiong'an New Area

Xiong’an went into lockdown without any official announcements. It is understood authorities set up roadblocks and told residents to return home. Pictured: Policemen control traffic at Anxin County after new Covid-19 cases were reported in Xiong’an New Area

The restrictions kicked in on Tuesday, they added – the same day authorities in another district noted five confirmed coronavirus infections had been found to date. 

Xiong’an appeared to go into lockdown without any official government announcements, social media confirmation or news reports, according to German publication Die Zeit

Instead, it is understood that authorities in the city set up roadblocks and told residents that they had to return home to quarantine.

It is believed that some residents received messages from anonymous accounts on Chinese instant messaging app WeChat telling them that the city would be under a week-long lockdown.

Officers also reportedly arrived at shops and restaurants, where they told owners they had to close their businesses for seven days.

Some residents have claimed that they didn’t know a lockdown was happening until after authorities shut down Xiong’an, according to reports. 

Lockdowns, which are commonplace in China’s strict ‘zero-Covid’ strategy, are normally announced through city websites, official government social media feeds or state-backed media outlets. 

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing. 

Officers reportedly arrived at shops and restaurants and told owners they had to close their businesses for seven days. Pictured: A closed restaurant in Anxin County, Xiongan New Area

Officers reportedly arrived at shops and restaurants and told owners they had to close their businesses for seven days. Pictured: A closed restaurant in Anxin County, Xiongan New Area

Officers reportedly arrived at shops and restaurants and told owners they had to close their businesses for seven days. Pictured: A closed restaurant in Anxin County, Xiongan New Area

The self-sufficient neighbourhood in the Xiong'an New Area is promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping as 'a new standard in the post-COVID era' that can also be applied elsewhere

The self-sufficient neighbourhood in the Xiong'an New Area is promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping as 'a new standard in the post-COVID era' that can also be applied elsewhere

The self-sufficient neighbourhood in the Xiong’an New Area is promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping as ‘a new standard in the post-COVID era’ that can also be applied elsewhere

Around 1.2m people in Xiong'an are no longer allowed to enter or leave their residential compounds. Pictured: People receive Covid-19 nucleic acid test at a testing site in Anxin County on January 23

Around 1.2m people in Xiong'an are no longer allowed to enter or leave their residential compounds. Pictured: People receive Covid-19 nucleic acid test at a testing site in Anxin County on January 23

Around 1.2m people in Xiong’an are no longer allowed to enter or leave their residential compounds. Pictured: People receive Covid-19 nucleic acid test at a testing site in Anxin County on January 23

Some users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo were seen asking for further information about restrictions, while others questioned the extent of measures.

‘Is there a need? Why can’t we go home if the area is deemed low-risk? Don’t make this one-size-fits-all,’ said a Weibo user this week.

Another said Thursday: ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to go home for the Lunar New Year.’

While there have been a number of national-level ‘New Areas’ across China, Xiong’an stands out with its location personally designated by President Xi Jinping, according to state media.

China, where the coronavirus first emerged, has upheld a strict ‘zero-Covid’ strategy involving targeted lockdowns, tight border controls and mass testing.

Its reported case numbers are tiny in comparison to the rest of the world.

Cities such as Xi’an and Anyang have experienced hard lockdowns in recent weeks, with residents confined to their homes until multiple rounds of mass testing are completed and the outbreak suppressed.

The lockdowns are the broadest since the shutting down of Wuhan and most of the rest of Hubei province in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

Since then, China’s approach has evolved into one of targeting smaller areas hit by outbreaks for lockdowns.

The approach of the Winter Olympics, which open February 4 in Beijing, and the emergence of omicron have brought back citywide lockdowns in a bid to snuff out outbreaks and prevent them from spreading to other parts of China. 

The Communist regime argues that its strict policy has ensured the country of 1.4 billion citizens has had fewer cases than Cumbria during the pandemic, thus saving huge numbers of lives. 

A month-long lockdown on the megacity of Xi’an was lifted earlier this week after a cluster that grew to more than 2,100 cases – China’s largest outbreak in months – was largely stamped out.

Some residents have claimed that they didn't know a lockdown was happening until after authorities shut down Xiong'an. Picutred; Medical staff take nucleic acid sample for a person in Xiong'an New Area in Baoding city

Some residents have claimed that they didn't know a lockdown was happening until after authorities shut down Xiong'an. Picutred; Medical staff take nucleic acid sample for a person in Xiong'an New Area in Baoding city

Some residents have claimed that they didn’t know a lockdown was happening until after authorities shut down Xiong’an. Picutred; Medical staff take nucleic acid sample for a person in Xiong’an New Area in Baoding city

Policemen control traffic at Anxin County after new Covid-19 cases were reported on January 24 in Xiongan New Area

Policemen control traffic at Anxin County after new Covid-19 cases were reported on January 24 in Xiongan New Area

Policemen control traffic at Anxin County after new Covid-19 cases were reported on January 24 in Xiongan New Area

But stubborn flare-ups have persisted, including in Beijing and the nearby port city of Tianjin.

China reported 39 domestic Covid cases on Friday. 

The Winter Olympics, which is being diplomatically shunned by some Western nations citing China’s human rights record, will be held in a strict ‘closed loop’ bubble that separates everyone involved in the Games from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections leaking out.

Under the Covid rules, thousands of athletes, journalists and coaching staff arriving from overseas for the Winter Olympics are having to isolate from the general public for the entirety of the Games.

What is Xiong’an New Area, China’s ‘city of the future’? 

The Xiong’an New Area is a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing – in the Baoding area of Hebei.

The city occupies 2,000 square kilometres (772 square miles) – almost as big as Greater London and New York combined. 

Formed in April 2017, China’s newest city’s main purpose is to serve as a development hub for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle.

While there have been a number of national-level ‘New Areas’ across China, Xiong’an stands out with its location personally designated by President Xi Jinping, according to state media.

Xiong’an, which is often dubbed China’s ‘city of the future’, was just a rural backwater until recently, according to Fortune.

But on April 1, 2017, President Xi Jinping designated three agricultural counties as Xiong’an New Area.

The £430billion Xiong’an project seemed to be designed to ease crowded and congested Beijing, which boasts 21.5million residents, and it now serves as an economic hub.

The Chinese Government reportedly said it would move all ‘non-capital functions’ from Beijing to Xiong’an.

The Government has announced plans to create a futuristic and sustainable metropolis in Xiong’an, but last year, the Financial Times said some Chinese firms were reluctant to move their offices there due to construction delays. 

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Anyone who comes from abroad is taken from the Beijing airport in special vehicles to a hotel surrounded by temporary barricades that keep participants in and the public out.

‘I know the only experience of Beijing I’m going to experience is the Beijing I will see out of my bus window and my hotel window,’ said Associated Press photo editor Yirmiyan Arthur, who arrived this week. 

The experiences of journalists who have arrived or are preparing to depart offers a glimpse into life inside the bubble ahead of the Games which start next week.

Photographer Jae Hong said he had been warned about the bubble but seeing it in effect in Beijing was still a shock.

He described seeing passengers met by workers in white, full-body protective gear.

Everyone is tested for Covid-19 at the airport before being transported to their barricaded hotels, the entrances protected by round-the-clock guards.

Organisers want to keep any infections from getting out of the bubble, as well as spreading within the bubble, a heightened concern with the easily transmissible omicron variant.

Everyone is tested daily — failing to get tested the previous evening means being stuck in your hotel the next day.

So far, organisers said Thursday there have been 129 positive tests among the 4,046 people who have arrived for the Games. Of those, two are either athletes or team officials.

The rest are other participants such as the media. Those who test positive are taken to a hospital if they have symptoms or a quarantine hotel if they do not.

Even getting to China can be worrying, requiring multiple negative COVID-19 tests entered into an app that displays your health status.

That kept Arthur on edge during her journey from New Delhi to Beijing via Tokyo.

A colleague who had already arrived in Beijing helped her download the app. Then she saw the health workers in biohazard suits after she got off the plane.

‘In the airport it’s a bit scary, it’s almost like a hospital that was treating COVID patients in the second wave,’ she said, referring to India’s devastating surge in March 2021. 

Tokyo also had strict rules for the Summer Olympics last year, but participants were allowed outside of the bubble after two weeks.

AP video journalist Johnson Lai, who has yet to depart for the Olympics, is facing stress because China has no formal relations with Taiwan, his self-governing homeland that Beijing claims as its own territory.

That meant he was unable to complete the form in the Olympics app to get a code, which requires a test conducted at a China-approved hospital. ‘There’s a lot of uncertain matters that we can’t control,’ he said. 

The Xiong'an New Area is a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing - in the Baoding area of Hebei. It serves as a development hub for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle

The Xiong'an New Area is a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing - in the Baoding area of Hebei. It serves as a development hub for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle

The Xiong’an New Area is a new economic zone 60 miles southwest of Beijing – in the Baoding area of Hebei. It serves as a development hub for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing (pictured on Friday)

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing (pictured on Friday)

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have scrambled to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, including Beijing (pictured on Friday)

Outside the bubble, Beijing authorities locked down more neighbourhoods in the city’s Fengtai district on Thursday as they try to snuff out a delta variant outbreak that has infected about 70 people.

China has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy under which it quickly locks down affected areas and conducts mass testing of residents to find infections and isolate them.

Yet other countries that adopted similar policies to squash Covid such as Australia, Singapore and New Zealand have started to soften their stance. 

All 2 million residents of Fengtai are undergoing a third round of testing since last weekend. 

The Beijing outbreak has spread to neighbouring provinces. After four cases were reported in the city of Langfang, just south of Beijing in Hebei province, authorities suspended travel between the cities to try to prevent further spread.

China pioneered lockdown two years ago with its 76-day shutdown of Wuhan after officials disastrously covered-up the outbreak, punished whistleblower doctors and delayed imposing controls until after the New Year festivities.

Its lockdowns are far more stringent than in the West. In Wuhan, there were reports of people having doors to homes welded shut and of a teenage boy with disabilities dying after relatives were carted off into quarantine.

Since then, the longest lockdown has been in Xi’an, famous for its terracotta warriors and home to 13 million people, where more than 2,000 cases were detected.

Social media showed rows of cramped metal boxes, brought into the city for people suspected of having Covid-19.

At the start of January, a million people in Yuzhou were locked down after three asymptomatic infections. In another city, curbs were imposed so fast that a woman on a blind date dinner with a man at his home was locked in with him. 

Meanwhile, China has revealed a list of visiting dignitaries for next week’s Winter Olympics that includes the leaders of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt for an event that is being diplomatically shunned by some Western nations. 

Many Western nations have have announced a diplomatic boycott, citing China’s human rights record, in particular its crackdown on Muslim Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang that the United States has labelled ‘genocide’. 

Olympic staff wearing protective gear works inside the National Indoor Stadium, venue of the ice hockey tournaments of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, on Friday. Beijing is desperately trying to keep Covid-19 numbers down ahead of the games next week

Olympic staff wearing protective gear works inside the National Indoor Stadium, venue of the ice hockey tournaments of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, on Friday. Beijing is desperately trying to keep Covid-19 numbers down ahead of the games next week

Olympic staff wearing protective gear works inside the National Indoor Stadium, venue of the ice hockey tournaments of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, on Friday. Beijing is desperately trying to keep Covid-19 numbers down ahead of the games next week

The Winter Olympics will be held in a strict 'closed loop' bubble that separates everyone involved in from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections

The Winter Olympics will be held in a strict 'closed loop' bubble that separates everyone involved in from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections

The Winter Olympics will be held in a strict ‘closed loop’ bubble that separates everyone involved in from the wider Chinese population in a bid to reduce the risk of infections

Beijing is keen to shore up international support for the Games, which are the most politicised in recent memory. 

State broadcaster CCTV released an updated guest list for next Friday’s opening ceremony which includes many of China’s neighbours, a host of royals and leaders from key autocratic nations.

Among the more than 20 foreign visitors on the list are Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin was last year the first foreign leader to confirm his presence at the Beijing Olympics and is included on the list released Friday.

The dignitaries will attend the February 4 opening ceremony, a welcome banquet and ‘relevant bilateral activities’ with Xi, CCTV reported.

Their presence comes despite the US-led diplomatic boycott by countries including Britain, Canada, Australia and Denmark over China’s rights record.

Other nations such as Japan are not sending officials and have voiced concerns about human rights in China while steering clear of formally announcing they are part of the boycott.

Some Western countries such as the Netherlands have refused to send officials over China’s strict pandemic travel restrictions.

Human rights groups have long accused Sisi, Prince Mohammed and Putin of rights abuses in their countries.

The list released by CCTV also includes leaders from China’s mostly authoritarian Central Asian neighbours as well as the Emir of Qatar and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed.

Other royals include Thailand’s Princess Sirindhorn and Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Confirmed European invitees include Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic.

Many Western nations have have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, citing China's human rights record. Pictured: Staff get National Swimming Centre ready

Many Western nations have have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, citing China's human rights record. Pictured: Staff get National Swimming Centre ready

Many Western nations have have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, citing China’s human rights record. Pictured: Staff get National Swimming Centre ready

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are among global institution leaders coming to the Games.

The arrival of the dignitaries will kick off a flurry of face-to-face diplomatic activity for Xi, who has remained in China throughout the coronavirus pandemic as the country pursues a strict zero-Covid strategy.

Xi received International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach in Beijing earlier this week – his first face-to-face meeting with a visiting foreign official in two years.

Critics of the IOC’s decision to award the Winter Games to Beijing have long cited China’s rights record.

Scrutiny of a host country increases in the run-up to any Olympics but China under Xi has become palpably more authoritarian and muscular on the world stage.

Compared to the 2008 Summer Olympics, China’s relations with Western powers and many of its neighbours are much more fraught.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims have been incarcerated in Xinjiang. China denies genocide or the existence of forced labour camps.

It says a vast network of camps that have been built there are ‘vocational training centres’ to support employment and fight religious extremism.

An ongoing political crackdown in Hong Kong has also strained ties with many Western powers.

China’s history of tech surveillance has also weighed on the build-up to the Games, with some countries and cybersecurity researchers telling athletes and others attending to take temporary phones and laptops.

Beijing has dismissed those concerns and accused the United States and other Western powers of ‘politicising’ the Olympics.

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