BEIJING (AP) — The manufacturing hub of Guangzhou closed to most arrivals on Monday as China battles a major rise in COVID-19 in its major eastern cities.

Shanghai bore the brunt of the outbreak, with another 26,087 cases announced on Monday, of which only 914 showed symptoms. The city of 26 million is under a strict lockdown, with many residents confined to their homes for up to three weeks.

No such lockdown has yet been announced for Guangzhou, a metropolis of 18 million northwest of Hong Kong that is home to many big businesses and China’s busiest airport. Only 27 cases were reported in the city on Monday.

However, primary and secondary schools went online after the first 23 local infections were detected last week. An exhibition center was being converted into a makeshift hospital after authorities earlier announced they would begin mass testing across the city.

Only citizens with a “definite need” to leave Guangzhou can do so, and only if they test negative for the virus within 48 hours of departure, city spokesman Chen Bin said in an announcement on social networks.

Political cartoons about world leaders

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China has stuck to its “zero-COVID” strategy of managing outbreaks with strict isolation and mass testing, despite complaints in Shanghai about shortages of food and medical services.

The Chinese government and fully state-controlled media are increasingly defensive of complaints about COVID-19 prevention measures, censor online content and reprimand foreign critics.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Sunday that China had “filed solemn representations with the United States” after the State Department advised Americans to reconsider travel to China due to of the “arbitrary application” of local laws and restrictions related to COVID-19, especially in Hong Kong, Jilin. province and Shanghai. American officials have mentioned a risk of “separation of parents and children”.

China was “strongly unhappy with and firmly opposed to the US side’s baseless accusation against China’s epidemic response,” Zhao said.

Despite this, and despite indications that the hardline policy is dictated by ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, China has rejected any notion that its response is political in nature. Xi has demanded social stability above all ahead of a key party congress later this year when he is expected to give himself an unprecedented third term as party leader.

The English-language China Daily acknowledged that Shanghai’s measures are “far from perfect” and pointed to the dismissal last week of three local officials for failing in their duties. But he said it shouldn’t become an “excuse to politicize the event and blame China.

Despite the large number of cases, no new deaths were reported in the Shanghai wave, possibly because the omicron variant is less lethal than older variants.

City authorities also say they have ensured daily supplies for residents, following complaints about deliveries of food and other basic necessities.

Residents have resorted to group buying groceries because they are not allowed to leave their buildings, with only partial success in obtaining needed items.

The capital Beijing has seen relatively few restrictions, although the Erjiefang district, including the famous 798 art district, has been cordoned off and classified as high risk after eight infections were reported there in the past two weeks.

China is facing one of its worst local outbreaks since the pandemic began. China is still mostly closed to international travel, even though most of the world has sought ways to live with the virus.

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