China braces as Omicron variant extends its reach to Beijing and Lunar New Year looms
- A woman in the Chinese capital tests positive with just weeks to go until the Winter Olympics
- Holiday season expected to raise the risk of transmission, official says
Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said a woman from Haidian district reported having a sore throat on Thursday and a fever a day after. She tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday morning.
Health authorities at the district and city level reconfirmed the positive result and determined it to be the Omicron variant, Pang said.
The woman had not left the city in the previous two weeks and had not been in contact with confirmed cases. Two people living with her tested negative but some environmental samples in her home were positive.
Beijing’s health authorities carried out Covid-19 tests on her colleagues and neighbours, and imposed controls on 17 sites related to the case.
“Now Beijing’s epidemic prevention and control work faces the double risk of overseas and domestic cases,” Pang said.
Local health authorities called on residents not to leave the city unless necessary. They also encouraged people commuting from neighbouring Hebei province to the capital to work from home.
The Beijing case comes on top of the 104 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases reported throughout the country on Saturday. In addition, 61 imported cases were reported.
Health authorities said the coronavirus was becoming more complex to contain in China. Community cases have 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.
“The Spring Festival is about to start. The movement and gathering of people … will make the epidemic prevention and control situation more serious.”
Of the new local cases reported on Saturday, 52 were 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.
Of the 61 imported cases on Saturday, 43 were in Shanghai.
As of Saturday, at least six Chinese cities had reported local Omicron infections – Zhuhai and Zhongshan in Guangdong, Shanghai, Dalian in the northeastern province of Liaoning, Tianjin and Anyang in Henan province.
“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.
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.