China orders up 3,000 hospital beds to contain Covid-19 outbreak in Tibet

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – China has erected three makeshift hospitals in Tibet, which is only now seeing its first cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The new facilities provide 2,000 beds in the capital, Lhasa, and 1,000 in the city of Shigatse.

As part of its ongoing zero-Covid strategy, China mandates that all positive cases and their close contacts be isolated, often in government-built temporary hospitals.

After living most of the pandemic virtually virus-free, Tibet reported 28 new cases for Tuesday (Aug 10) and has imposed a partial lockdown of Lhasa – including the famed Potala Palace, the traditional winter residence of the Dalai Lamas – while it mass tests to root out hidden chains of transmission.

A team of health experts from Beijing has arrived to support its containment measures.

China’s National Health Commission warned Wednesday (Aug 10) that people in high-altitude regions are more prone to chronic respiratory diseases and low blood oxygen levels, putting them at greater risk of serious illness from Covid-19.

An analysis of an outbreak in the mountainous province of Gansu, which had 27 serious cases among its almost 4,500 infections, suggested the topographical link, official Guo Yanhong told reporters at a briefing.

With the onset of the summer vacation season, and its international borders effectively closed, China is grappling with flare-ups in multiple tourism hotspots, with local officials turning to the zero-Covid playbook of movement restrictions, mass testing and surveillance to try to get the cases under control.

The virus is spreading fast in areas including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Guangdong, NHC spokesman Mi Feng said Wednesday. China’s 952 new infections on Tuesday was the highest tally in almost a month.

In the north-west, Urumqi – the capital city of Xinjiang and a popular destination for Chinese travellers for its proximity to the Silk Road – locked down six of its eight major areas for five days, suspending taxi and public transport services.

The region reported 122 cases.

More parts of Xinjiang were subject to restrictions, officials said, and tourists would now be able to leave the region if they produce a negative PCR test within 24 hours.

China’s largest outbreak is in Hainan, a tropical island in the south known for its beaches and duty-free shopping, where 570 cases were reported.