CHINA is desperately clinging onto its "zero Covid" strategy as officials ban 13 million people from going outside as they face starvation and brutal punishments.
The country is racing to control one of its worst outbreaks in a single city since the beginning of the pandemic with a sweeping lockdown and draconian restrictions.
China's brutal "zero Covid" policy sees extreme restrictions in the infected areas, tight border control and lengthy quarantines as the country prepares for the Winter Olympics in February.
The 13 million people living in the northern city of Xian have been banned from leaving their homes – even for essential reasons like buying food – to squash the rising tide of Covid infections.
The harsh lockdown comes as a string of hugely positive studies show Omicron IS milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.
Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.
The Sun's Jabs Army campaign is helping get the vital extra vaccines in Brits' arms to ward off the need for any new restrictions.
But China is clearly sticking to its zero-tolerance approach to Covid, with schools and businesses closed down and six sweeping rounds of city-wide testing so far.
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China has logged 131,300 cases and 5,699 deaths since the pandemic kicked off, but its citizens have faced some of the toughest measures in the world.
Xian, a popular tourist destination, is one of the largest Chinese cities to be locked down since Wuhan was sealed off in January 2020 when the first Covid cases started to emerge.
A total of 1,451 cases have been recorded in Xian since December 9 – the highest tally for any Chinese city in 2021, prompting panic among the authorities.
A whopping 12,000 testing stations have been set up with more than 160,000 workers deployed to curb the outbreak.
Workers have sprayed the entire city with clouds of disinfectant for a “full-scale” deep cleaning.
And officials are punishing people who try to escape the latest lockdown or evade the ramped up rules.
Anyone caught driving risks being jailed after the worst outbreak in 21 months.
Health officials and police will "strictly inspect" vehicles on the roads and those who break the rules could face ten days in detention and a 500 yuan fine (£58).
People living in the shuttered city must only leave their houses to get a Covid test – or in a medical emergency.
Local cops have also hunted down people attempting to duck the tight controls, including one man who tried to wade across the Wei River to get out of town.
He was given a warning, according to the government, Bloomberg reports.
Cops said another man who pedaled about 80 kilometres on a shared bicycle to his hometown was fined and sent to quarantine.
Meanwhile, a bloke who hiked 100 kilometres from the airport to a nearby county was marched to quarantine by police and handed an unspecified punishment.
'TARGETED AND FORCEFUL'
In a chilling message, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan has now urged local authorities to adopt more “targeted and forceful” measures to stop people evading the rules.
But starving residents have been begging for food on social media.
One resident posted: "I heard other districts are gradually getting supplies, but I didn't get anything. My compound bans us from going out. I ordered some groceries online four days ago, but no sign of getting it at all. I haven't been able to get any vegetables for days."
Another said: "The allocation is so uneven. The district I'm based in hasn't got anything. We are told to group up and order together. The price is very high as well."
Footage posted on Twitter shows a group of locals arguing with police over the lack of supplies.
A man can be heard telling the authorities that his family has run out of food, and a woman can be heard saying: "We've been locked down for 13 days. Resident's basic life can't be sustained.
"We queued for three to four hours [to buy vegetables]. But they don't allow it to be sold anymore."
State-owned newspaper Global Times reported there was a shortage of deliverymen as many were under quarantine themselves.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, "rule breakers" were paraded through the streets in another city by armed police in an act of public shaming.
Pictures reportedly showed four people wearing masks and hazmat suits – who are alleged to have flouted the strict lockdown rules – being marched in front of crowds in the city of Jingxi in the southern region of Guangxi.
But it's not residents who have been slapped with harsh punishments.
'EXPOSED AND PUNISHED'
Even a group of officials were punished for mismanaging a quarantine hotel in Xian.
Staff at the hotel became infected while disinfecting the rooms of passengers on a flight from Pakistan.
Cops in the city said they punished six people for "violating epidemic control rules" with penalties ranging from a verbal warning to detention and criminal charges.
In total, 26 people were punished after more than 2,300 staff from the city’s Commission for Discipline Inspection launched a probe into how officials and organisations responded to the outbreak.
According to the South China Morning Post, a disciplinary official said: “They did not pay enough attention or implement policies vigorously.
"The internal management is chaotic, all leading to staff at quarantine hotel staff being infected."
An official said in a statement: "Those who do not take responsibility or act fast, shift the blame or give a passive response … [have] been investigated, exposed and punished."
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