Chinese city near Beijing orders 2nd round of mass COVID testing as Olympics loom
The northern Chinese city of Tianjin ordered a second round of COVID-19 testing of all 14 million residents Wednesday following the discovery of 97 cases of the Omicron variant during initial screenings that began Sunday.
Residents were asked to remain where they were until the results of all the nucleic acid tests were received, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Xinhua said authorities had carried out almost 12 million tests so far, with 7.8 million samples returned. Infections were first reported Saturday in Tianjin, a major port city only about an hour from Beijing, which is to host the Winter Olympics from Feb. 4.
High-speed rail service and other forms of transportation between the two cities have been suspended, leading to some disruptions in supply chains, including for packaged food items sold in convenience stores.
Tianjin’s COVID-19 prevention and control office said all who have tested positive in the initial testing round were found to have the Omicron variant, of which China has so far reported only a small number of cases. The source of the outbreak is still unknown, and many who are spreading the variant may be doing so unwittingly because they show no symptoms.
Also in northern China, two college students who traveled earlier this month by train from Tianjin tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday in the city of Dalian, city officials said. There was no word on what variant they had contracted.
Scientists are seeing signals that the wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S.
Millions more Chinese are under lockdown in cities under the country’s zero-tolerance policy, which has allowed China to largely contain major outbreaks, although at considerable cost to local economies.
Hong Kong has closed kindergartens and primary schools after infections were discovered among students, banned flights from the United States and seven other countries, and held 2,500 passengers on a cruise ship for coronavirus testing as the city attempts to stem an emerging Omicron outbreak.
In total, China announced 166 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours before Wednesday, including 33 in Tianjin and 118 in Henan province but just eight in the city of Xian, where a lockdown was imposed Dec. 23.
Authorities also released news of an inspection visit to Henan last week by Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who called for stepped-up measures to prevent the spread of both the Delta and Omicron variants. The coronavirus has spread to three cities in the province, including Yuzhou, Anyang and the provincial capital, Zhengzhou, prompting travel bans and various levels of lockdown.
Residents of the Chinese city of Xian are straining under a harsh coronavirus lockdown, with some complaining of difficulty getting basic necessities.
“It is necessary to do a good job in guaranteeing the living needs of the people in the closed and controlled communities, ensure the basic medical needs of the people during the epidemic period, and ensure that the people’s demands can be responded to and resolved in a timely manner,” Sun was quoted as saying.
Some Xian residents have complained about their inability to obtain food and other daily necessities.
China has sacked or otherwise punished a number of officials for dereliction of duty related to the pandemic response, including failing to prevent new infections. On Wednesday, Anyang authorities cited 61 government departments and 11 officials in violation. Punishments ranged from verbal warnings to dismissal, according to a city government notice.
Ensuring that the Winter Olympics in Beijing are free of any outbreaks is a key concern of the ruling Communist Party. Athletes, officials and journalists are operating in a bubble to prevent them from coming into contact with the general public from the time they arrive in Beijing until their departure. If fully vaccinated, they will not have to undergo the standard 21-day quarantine.
U.S. athletes will win seven golds and 24 medals overall, for fourth place in the medal count, at the Beijing Olympics, according to a Gracenote forecast.
In addition, the International Olympic Committee has issued a document advising attendees to avoid crowded places such as bars and restaurants and avoid physical contact with others five days before departing.
Attendees are required to provide two negative PCR tests before they travel and will be tested twice daily while in China.
Participants should “absolutely not let your guard down” even after testing negative, the IOC said.
China has banned fans from outside the country from attending, and it appears that Beijing plans to distribute only a small number of tickets to carefully selected spectators.
China says it currently has 3,476 active COVID-19 cases. The country has reported 4,636 deaths among 104,189 total cases since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
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