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China closes Lhasa’s famed Potala Palace amid minor COVID-19 outbreak in Tibet

People on scooters riding past Potala Palace in Lhasa
People ride scooters past the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
(Aritz Parra / Associated Press)

Chinese authorities have closed Tibet’s famed Potala Palace after a minor outbreak of COVID-19 was reported in the Himalayan region.

The action underscores China’s continued adherence to its “zero-COVID” policy, mandating lockdowns, routine testing, quarantines and travel restrictions, even while most other countries have reopened.

A notice on the palace’s Weixin social media site said the palace in Lhasa — once the traditional home of Tibet’s Buddhist leaders — would be closed from Tuesday, with a reopening date to be announced later.

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Tibet’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and the Potala Palace is a key draw.

China says its hard-line COVID-19 policy has been successful in preventing large-scale hospitalizations and deaths, while critics, including the World Health Organization, have decried its impact on the economy and society and said it is out of step with the changing nature of the coronavirus and new methods of prevention and treatment.

China announced 828 new cases of domestic transmission Tuesday, 22 of them in Tibet. The majority of those cases showed no symptoms.

Elsewhere in China, authorities sent a first planeload of 125 tourists out of the southern beach resort of Sanya, where tens of thousands of travelers have been stuck since Saturday by a COVID-19 lockdown.

State broadcaster CCTV said the city in Hainan province was organizing more flights to return tourists home in batches after the initial flight to Xian. They are allowed to leave only after multiple negative coronavirus test results.

The provincial capital, Haikou, will be locked down for 17 hours Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., the city announced.


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