Omicron detected in Beijing as China battles COVID-19 clusters

A case of omicron has been detected in Beijing, officials in the Chinese capital said on Saturday, as the country battles multiple outbreaks of the highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus ahead of the Winter Olympics.

The announcement comes a day after the southern city of Zhuhai imposed travel restrictions on residents as a mass testing campaign uncovered seven infections.

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Millions of people across the country have been ordered to stay at home in recent weeks, with dozens of domestic flights canceled and factories closed, as the country tries to control a series of small coronavirus outbreaks, including several. of the omicron variant, ahead of the upcoming Beijing Olympics this month.

A locally transmitted case of omicron has been discovered in the capital’s Haidian district, home to many tech company headquarters, city official Pang Xinghuo told a news conference, a rare breach. in Beijing’s closely watched defenses against COVID-19.

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Authorities are testing other occupants of the patient’s residential compound and office building and have restricted access to 17 locations linked to the infected person, Pang said.

Beijing has long banned people from certain parts of the country who have reported cases, while requiring all arrivals to provide recent COVID-19 tests.

Residents have also been urged in recent weeks not to leave town for the upcoming Spring Festival holiday.

On Friday, the coastal city of Zhuhai, which borders the Macau gambling hub, said the omicron was detected in one mildly ill patient and six asymptomatic patients.

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

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

Businesses such as beauty salons, card rooms, gyms and cinemas were ordered to close on Thursday, with authorities announcing the suspension of public bus routes in parts of the city.

China has kept COVID-19 cases relatively low throughout the pandemic thanks to its zero-tolerance strategy of immediately ordering mass testing and strict lockdowns when infections are detected.

Tougher lockdowns have been imposed on smaller Chinese cities where millions have been ordered to stay home and get tested, while economic hubs such as Shanghai and Beijing have locked down and tested only specific neighborhoods in more targeted efforts.

But the fast-spreading omicron variant has been testing that strategy in recent weeks, popping up in the port city of Tianjin near Beijing before spreading to the central city of Anyang.

National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng told reporters on Saturday that the country faces a “double challenge” from the delta and omicron strains of the virus.

He warned that regions that had not yet experienced outbreaks “must not relax” their prevention measures and “strengthen risk auditing”.

The country reported 104 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases on Saturday.

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