Beijing's most populous district urged residents to stay at home Monday, extending a request from the weekend as the city's COVID-19 case numbers rose, with many businesses shut and schools in the area shifting classes online.
Nationally, new case numbers held steady on Sunday near April peaks as China battles outbreaks in cities across the country, from Zhengzhou in central Henan province to Guangzhou in the south and Chongqing in the southwest.
In the capital, two COVID-19 deaths were reported Sunday. Authorities earlier reported the death of an 87-year-old Beijing man, the country’s first official COVID-19 fatality since May 26, raising China's coronavirus death toll to 5,227. It is unclear if his death is one of the two reported Sunday.
In addition to the deaths, the city reported 154 symptomatic new locally transmitted COVID-19 infections and 808 asymptomatic cases, local government authorities said Monday.
This compared with 69 symptomatic cases and 552 asymptomatic cases the day before. Authorities also found 266 cases on Sunday outside quarantined areas.
On Sunday, Beijing city officials urged residents of the sprawling Chaoyang district, home to nearly 3.5 million people as well as embassies and office towers, to stay home Monday.
"The number of cases discovered outside quarantine is increasing rapidly at present, and there are hidden transmission risks from multiple places," Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told a media briefing.
"The pressure on Beijing has further increased," he said.
Many Beijing residents stocked up on food during the weekend, with some delivery services experiencing delays.
Hairdressers in the neighboring Dongcheng district were also told to close.
On Sunday, China reported 24,435 new COVID-19 infections for November 19, down slightly from 24,473 a day earlier but near highs clocked in April when Shanghai, China's largest city, was in the middle of an outbreak and a grinding two-month lockdown.
China is trying to ease the impact of containment measures that drag on the economy and frustrate residents fed up with lockdowns, quarantine and other disruptions, even as it reiterates its commitment to its zero-COVID approach.
While official infection tallies are low by global standards, China tries to stamp out every infection chain, making it an outlier nearly three years into the pandemic.
Under a series of measures unveiled this month, Chinese health authorities have sought more targeted COVID-19 curbs, sparking investor hopes of a more significant easing even as China faces its first winter battling the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Many analysts expect such a shift to begin only in March or April, however, with the government arguing that President Xi Jinping's signature zero-COVID policy saves lives.
Experts warn that full reopening requires a massive vaccination booster effort and a change in messaging in a country where the disease remains widely feared.
The People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper, warned Sunday that the pandemic may expand because of mutations and seasonal factors.
"The situation of pandemic control is severe. We must maintain confidence that we will win, resolutely overcome issues such as insufficient understanding and insufficient preparation," it said in an editorial.