The Chinese authorities are ready to rapidly identify the new coronavirus variant Omicron if it reaches Beijing, a health official said on Monday. “We have established the testing capacity for mutant strains to prevent and control Omicron,” said Yang Peng, an official at the Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. The Omicron variant has yet to be detected in mainland China, but its emergence in several countries and territories could pose a new threat to the government’s much-debated zero-Covid policy, involving mass testing, frequent contact tracing, lengthy quarantines and strict border controls. Chinese officials have admitted previously that there was a high chance of the variant being introduced to China, but they insisted that the country’s testing regime would succeed in detecting any cases and its zero-tolerance strategy would halt community transmission. The authorities have enacted stringent measures to halt recent Covid-19 outbreaks in Beijing – which hosts the Winter Olympics in February – and surrounding regions. The country on Monday reported 38 new local symptomatic cases, of which 28 were found in the Inner Mongolian city of Hulunbuir – whose administration covers an area including the recent epicentre of Manzhouli , on the border with Russia. Manzhouli accounted for all but one of Hulunbuir’s cases. Seven of the other cases were in the northeastern city of Harbin, while Yunnan and Hebei provinces also recorded cases, the National Health Commission said. In addition, there were five asymptomatic cases, found in Yunnan and Inner Mongolia, and 62 new imported cases, of which 23 were symptomatic. Local governments have continued to run mass testing on almost a daily basis in an attempt to control the spread. Manzhouli began its ninth round of citywide testing in as many days as it struggles to get infections under control. The local health authorities had found 396 positive cases in the previous eight rounds. Did Covid-19 and HIV collide to create the Omicron variant? Harbin, whose latest seven cases took its total in the present outbreak to 32, advised residents to avoid travel and, in freezing conditions, launched its third round of testing in six urban communities. The previous round found two positive cases, the authorities said. China Southern Airlines cancelled 22 flights on Monday between Harbin and other Chinese cities including Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen because of the outbreak, state broadcaster CCTV reported.