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First flights leave Chinese city Xi'an as travel restrictions ease

BEIJING — The first commercial airline flights in one month took off Saturday from Xi’an in western China as the government eased travel curbs imposed after a coronavirus outbreak ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Seven planes took off, according to the website of Xi’an Xianyang International Airport. It said four were due to arrive Sunday.

Access to Xi’an, a city of 13 million people about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Beijing, was suspended Dec. 22 following an outbreak attributed to the coronavirus’s delta variant.

The ruling Communist Party has stepped up enforcement of its “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of China by finding and isolating every infected person. It suspended access to Xi'an and other cities after outbreaks were found.

Nationwide, China reported 63 new confirmed infections in the 24 hours through midnight Friday. That included 10 in Beijing and six in the neighboring port city of Tianjin.

China’s official death toll stands at 4,636 out of 105,547 confirmed cases.

Xi’an has reported 2,053 cases since Dec. 9. None were reported Friday.

Airline passengers who want to leave Xi’an are required to show a negative test within the past 48 hours, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said people from areas deemed at high risk for infection were barred from the airport.

Authorities said Jan. 16 restrictions on low-risk areas of Xi’an had been lifted at least in part. People who had been confined to their homes in other areas were allowed out to buy daily necessities.

The severity of the lockdown on Xi’an prompted complaints about food shortages. A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage outside a hospital after being refused admission, reportedly because she lacked a valid virus test.

Authorities have called on the public to stay where they are during the Lunar New Year instead of traveling to their hometowns for the year’s most important family holiday.

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