BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – New Covid-19 cases in China jumped to almost 700, with more infectious strains of the virus continuing to challenge the country’s hardline approach as outbreaks spread beyond the major cities.

China on Tuesday (July 19) reported 699 cases for Monday – the highest daily tally since May 22 – after recording more than 1,000 infections over the weekend.

Most of the cases are centred in the hotspots of the Guangxi region in the south, which recorded 243 cases on Monday – taking its total since the outbreak there flared six days ago to 829 – and the remote northwestern province of Gansu, which reported 231 new infections, taking the number of cases there in the past week to 953.

Most of Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou, has been locked down for almost a week, and a lockdown was imposed in at least two districts of Beihai, a seaside city in Guangxi, trapping more than 2,000 tourists on Monday.

While Shanghai’s Covid-19 situation is less dire, officials in the city, which endured a bruising two-month lockdown during April and May, are taking no chances – rolling out a testing blitz in 12 of the city’s 16 districts that are home to around 20 million people.

The financial hub reported 23 cases on Monday from 17 on Sunday. Daily cases in the city have dropped from highs reached earlier this month, but they have held in double-digits for two weeks, and high-risk areas continue to be locked down.

Beijing, reported one case for Monday, CCTV reported, breaking a seven-day streak of zero cases in the capital.

China’s adherence to the Covid Zero strategy, which requires mass testing, snap lockdowns and travel restrictions, has exacted a heavy economic and social toll.

The economy last quarter grew at the slowest pace since the first virus outbreak more than two years ago, and growth will likely miss the government’s goal of about 5.5 per cent for the full year.

President Xi Jinping has made zero tolerance for Covid-19 a hallmark of his rule, saying the country won’t pursue “herd immunity” like other countries because it would exact too much of a toll, particularly on China’s elderly, who have lower vaccination rates.

Covid Zero has left the country increasingly isolated as travel barriers fall elsewhere, but Mr Xi remains undeterred, doubling down on the policy in recent public comments.

Meantime, the territory of Macau will aim to resume some social and business activities next week if cases drop to a “relatively low” level, health official Leong Iek Hou said at a briefing on Monday.

The gambling enclave near Hong Kong extended a citywide lockdown on Saturday as authorities struggle to contain the worst Covid-19 outbreak since the pandemic started.