China closed Tibet’s Potala Palace, former home of the exiled Dalai Lama, on Tuesday after 22 Covid-19 cases were reported in the Himalayan region.

China is the only major economy still sticking to a zero-Covid strategy that uses snap lockdowns, mass testing and long quarantine periods to contain outbreaks.

Potala Square
The Potala Square and its musical fountain in Lhasa, Tibet. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Philipp Roelli.

Tibet’s economy is dependent on tourism and the Potala Palace is a key attraction, with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

“In order to effectively prevent and control the epidemic and ensure the health and safety of the general public, the Potala Palace will be closed from August 9,” a notice on the palace’s official WeChat account said.

A reopening date has not been announced.

China reported 828 domestic Covid cases on Tuesday, of which 22 were in Tibet. All cases except one in the Himalayan region were asymptomatic, health data showed.

Tourists leave ‘China’s Hawaii’

In southern China, tens of thousands of tourists trapped in a Covid-hit resort city due to travel curbs can begin leaving in batches, authorities said Tuesday, but many remain stranded.

More than 80,000 holidaymakers in Sanya on the island of Hainan — often called “China’s Hawaii” — saw their vacations become a nightmare when officials declared a Covid emergency and cancelled flights and train ticket sales over the weekend.

Hainan Island'
Hainan Island’s Sanya Bay. File Photo: Llee_wu, via Flickr.

Sanya, home to more than a million people, is battling its worst outbreak in two years with more than 1,500 cases reported between August 1 and 9, according to official data.

The local health bureau on Tuesday announced that some tourists would be permitted to depart Sanya, saying “tour groups in areas without any infections… will be allowed to leave after testing negative for the virus twice over a 48-hour period”.

Other travellers in areas with infections but deemed “low-risk” will be allowed to go if they have not displayed Covid symptoms in the past three days and test negative three times in 72 hours.

But those stuck in places labelled medium or high-risk will have to wait until the situation improves.

All entertainment venues including spas, karaoke bars and pubs have been closed in the city since last week.

Hotel Sanya Hainan Island Province China
A hotel in Sanya, on the Chinese island of Hainan. Photo: ChiralJon, via Flickr.

Hotels in Sanya were ordered on Saturday to offer rooms to stranded visitors at half price until the travel restrictions are lifted.

China’s borders have remained largely closed since early 2020, vastly curtailing international tourism.

The latest Covid outbreak comes during peak travel season in Sanya, a popular surfing spot.

A number of Chinese Super League football matches were scheduled to be played in Haikou, the capital of Hainan, in the coming days, but have been postponed indefinitely, organisers said in a statement Monday.

“Due to the impact of the epidemic in Haikou, some games in the 12th round of the 2022 CSL cannot be played normally,” the country’s Football Association said on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

Chinese Football
Photo: Chinese Football Association.

The league has been severely affected by the pandemic, with most teams having to play in empty stadiums since the virus emerged in late 2019.

About one-third of the teams are in Haikou following recent matches and will be temporarily unable to leave, state media reported.

The six teams are Chengdu Rongcheng, Jinmen Tiger, Shandong Taishan, Hebei, Cangzhou Mighty Lions and Guangzhou.

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