Beijing reports first Omicron case

Beijing reports first Omicron case

Authorities on high alert as Winter Olympics approach, with variant also found in Shanghai and Guangdong

People walk past a display of the logos of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing on Friday. (Reuters Photo)
People walk past a display of the logos of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing on Friday. (Reuters Photo)

BEIJING: Authorities in Beijing have reported the city’s first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, less than three weeks before the start of the Winter Olympics.

Officials confirmed the detection of the highly contagious strain at a news conference on Saturday. The Winter Olympics start on Feb 4 in Beijing and will run until Feb 20.

China is attempting to seal the Games inside an impenetrable giant bubble cocooning thousands of people and stretching nearly 200 kilometres in an effort to thwart the coronavirus.

The Omicron variant has also been confirmed in infections in Shanghai and Guangdong province, placing additional pressure on authorities in a country that continues to aggressively enforce a “zero Covid” policy.

Two patients were found to have Omicron in Zhongshan and Zhuhai in Guangdong in southern China, National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said atn a briefing in Beijing. A case in Shanghai reported on Thursday was also confirmed as Omicron, he said, without giving details.

Local governments have ordered mass tests in some places in Guangdong province.

The country of 1.3 billion reported 104 new local Covid-19 cases on Friday as areas such as Xi’an, Tianjin, Zhengzhou and Shenzhen locked down residential buildings. Tests at Tianjin Port found no cases, authorities said.

The country’s virus prevention measures are “effective” in containing Omicron, said He Qinghua, a health official.

Cities across China have ratcheted up viral vigilance as Beijing prepares to stage the Games. Many local governments have advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.

Authorities have warned that Omicron adds to the increased risk of Covid transmission as more people return to China from overseas for the Lunar New Year holiday.

He Qinghua said 14 provincial areas in China had found the Omicron variant in infected individuals arriving from overseas.

The coastal city of Zhuhai, which borders Macau, suspended public bus routes on Saturday after announcing it had detected at least seven cases of Omicron, and warned residents not to leave the city.

Zhuhai officials have asked residents to avoid leaving the city “unless necessary”, with those who are required to show negative Covid test results within the past 24 hours.

The city launched mass testing for its population of 2.4 million people on Friday after a Covid case was detected in neighbouring Zhongshan earlier in the week.

Businesses including beauty salons, card rooms, gyms and cinemas were ordered to close on Thursday.

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