China braces as Omicron variant extends its reach to Beijing and Lunar New Year looms

A woman in the Chinese capital tests positive with Omicron variant just weeks to go until the Winter Olympics. Holiday season expected to raise the risk of transmission, official says

The coronavirus is becoming more complex to contain in China, with 14 of the country’s 31 provinces and regions reporting imported cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, according to national health authorities.

Community cases have also been reported in Henan, Guangdong and Tianjin, complicating efforts in the countdown to the Lunar New Year travel rush later this month, as well as the Winter Olympics in February.

“China is facing the dual challenge of imported cases of the Delta and Omicron variants,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said on Saturday.

“The Spring Festival is about to start. The movement and gathering of people … will make the epidemic prevention and control situation more serious.”

The country reported 104 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Saturday, including 52 in the central province of Henan and 39 in Tianjin, where the first two Omicron infections were reported last Saturday.

Eight new locally transmitted infections were reported in Guangdong – six in the coastal city of Zhuhai, which borders Macau, and two in Shenzhen. Xian in northern China reported four new cases and the eastern city of Hangzhou recorded one, the NHC said.

In addition, 61 imported cases were reported on Saturday, of which 43 were in Shanghai.

As of Saturday, at least six Chinese cities have reported Omicron infections – Zhuhai and Zhongshan in Guangdong, Shanghai, Dalian in the northeastern province of Liaoning, Tianjin and Anyang in Henan province.

Shanghai reported two new locally transmitted cases and three asymptomatic ones on Thursday. Gene sequencing showed the virus was the Omicron variant. Three of the five confirmed cases worked at a small bubble tea shop.

“Many of the cases [in Guangdong and Shanghai] have many social activity trajectories and there is a risk of spillover of community infection transmission,” NHC official He Qinghua said.

Zhuhai suspended public bus services on Saturday, a day after it detected at least seven cases of the Omicron variant. Of those cases, one was symptomatic and the rest were asymptomatic.

The city of Zhongshan, which neighbours Zhuhai and has a population of 4.4 million, reported one symptomatic case on Wednesday which was later confirmed as an Omicron infection. The source remains unknown.

Zhuhai has cancelled all flights to Beijing and imposed a lockdown on a township where the confirmed cases were reported. Zhongshan has also imposed travel restrictions and shut indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas.

Tianjin was the first Chinese city to report the Omicron variant and has recorded 181 locally transmitted cases and 22 asymptomatic cases over the past week. The city’s first case of the Omicron variant was an overseas returnee who arrived in December.

The virus has spread from the port city to the northeastern city of Dalian and to Anyang in central China.

Anyang has reported 235 cases over the past week, with the first case being a college student who returned to the city from Tianjin.

Many Chinese cities have urged people not to travel during the Lunar New Year holiday unless necessary. Those determined to travel over the break will need to present a negative Covid-19 test taken within the previous 48 hours.

Xian, which has been on lockdown since December 22, said its students at its universities and colleges would remain on campus for the traditional holiday this year.

Beijing authorities are also encouraging its residents to work from home during the Winter Olympics to relieve traffic pressure.

Source: South China Morning Post

Leave a Reply