When a handful of new coronavirus cases materialized this month in a province surrounding Beijing — apparently spread at a village wedding party — the Chinese authorities bolted into action.
They locked down two cities with more than 17 million people, Shijiazhuang and Xingtai. They ordered a crash testing regime of nearly every resident there, which was completed in a matter of days.
They shut down transportation and canceled weddings, funerals and, most significantly, a provincial Communist Party conference.
By this week the lockdowns expanded to include another city on the edge of Beijing, Langfang, as well as a county in Heilongjiang, a northeastern province. Districts in Beijing itself, the Chinese capital, also shut down.
More than 22 million people in all have been ordered to remain inside their homes — double the number affected last January when China’s central government locked down Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first reported, in a move that was then seen as extraordinary.
The flare-ups remain small compared with the devastation facing other countries, but they threaten to undercut the success the country’s Communist Party has had in subduing the virus, allowing its economy to surge back after last year’s