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Beijing has imposed a lockdown of 1.7 million people in part of the Chinese capital as officials race to prevent a COVID-19 resurgence in the country’s northern region from seeping into its most important city.

Daxing district in southern Beijing, where its new airport is located, has been sealed off from the rest of the country after six infections were found there. The total number of cases in Beijing stood at 23 on Wednesday, while over a thousand infections have been found nationwide since early January, mostly in China’s vast rural northern provinces.

While the number of cases is small compared to outbreaks in western countries, the flareup — fueled by an unusually cold winter — is China’s biggest coronavirus challenge since the Wuhan crisis a year ago given its potential to spread to the capital of over 20 million people, China’s cultural and political center.

With the Chinese New Year holiday three weeks away, officials are under pressure to cut off the virus’s transmission before the period of cross-country mass travel starts.

Residents in five Daxing apartment complexes have been barred from leaving their homes from Wednesday, said the local government, while students across the district were told to stay home. A wide range of public venues, including office buildings, hotels, restaurants, factories and supermarkets have been closed while the Daxing population undergoes mass testing.

In addition, Beijing is now requiring anyone coming to the city from overseas to be quarantined in isolation for 21 days — first at a centralized facility for 14 days, and then at their residence for seven days. They can then move around the city but are banned from any public gatherings for a further seven days.

The total of 28 days of restriction for foreign arrivals is among the toughest travel guidelines imposed in any major city.

The Daxing curbs are the first virus restrictions in Beijing since last summer, when a flareup that was traced to a seller of imported salmon grew to over 300 cases.

“The family cluster cases in Daxing has sounded the alarm that the epidemic situation is tough and complex,” said Xu Hejian, spokesperson for the Beijing municipal government, at a press briefing on Tuesday. “We cannot loosen up on preventing imported cases and a domestic rebound.”

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