Dharamsala: The reported Covid-19 outbreaks in Tibet may be the result of Chinese tourism encouraged by the government in Beijing, according to observers inside Tibet, that shut down all Buddhist venues including the iconic Potala Palace.
Commenters have also been complaining about inadequate infrastructure to combat the pandemic in Tibet.
Although China almost never allows journalists, diplomats and tourists from other countries to visit Tibet, it has encouraged local tourists to travel to the region as part of Beijing’s intensifying campaign to assimilate Tibet into Chinese society.
China’s authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region — which spans about half of Tibet — have placed the entire population of 800,000 in Shigatse prefecture-level city under a complete three-day lockdown.
The authorities have also imposed partial lockdowns in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, Nyingtri (Chinese: Linzhi) and Lhoka (Shannan) after detecting several cases in the region since August 6.
According to Chinese state media, beginning with four positive cases in the western Tibetan town of Purang (Pulan) county in Ngari (Ali) on August 6, more cases have been detected so far in Shigatse, Lhasa, Nyingtri and Lhoka.
As of Friday, there have been more than 25 positive cases.
Going by the state mediaabout preparation being made for Covid testing in not only these areas, but also in Nagchu (Naqu) and Chamdo (Changdu) as well as makeshift hospitals in Chamdo, the areas infected may be larger than what is being reported.
Details about the individuals with Covid, including their origin, have not been made public, other than that they have contracted the Omicron variant strain BA.2.76.
All the individuals infected are reported to have been travellers, including on the train route between Shigatse and Lhasa, as well as between Lhasa and Nyingtri.
Even before the stringent restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities under their “dynamic zero-Covid policy”, Tibet has been under a virtual lockdown. The region has been closed to foreign tourists for several years.
Despite China’s tight censorship on social media posts, since the most recent Covid cases, some have pointed their fingers at these tourists as the possible cause of the outbreaks.
One such post on August 8 said” “In short, there are two main reasons, one is the highly infectious Omicron, and the other is the increase in the flow of people during the summer vacation. Therefore, not only Tibet, but also many popular tourist destinations such as Xinjiang and Hainan have also experienced epidemics during this period.”
In a pre-emptive deflection of attention and criticism from the large influx and presence of Chinese visitors, Global Times, a state media outlet, has carried a report hinting at neighboring countries as the possible source of infection.
“As Xigaze (Chinese spelling of Shigatse) is a city bordering India, Nepal and Bhutan, the possibility of infection through trade cannot be ruled out,” the newspaper reported on August 8.
The Lhasa Buddhist Association announced the closure of all Tibetan Buddhist venues and suspended all religious activities in the city.
The iconic Potala Palace is also closed, along with other temples and monasteries in the city.
The association notice did not specify the duration of the closure and suspension of religious activity measures.