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Beijing reports Omicron infection three weeks before Winter Olympics

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Beijing reports Omicron infection three weeks before Winter Olympics

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HONG KONG — A locally transmitted case of the highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19 was detected in Beijing on Saturday, raising new concerns weeks before the city is due to host the Winter Olympics.

The arrival of the Omicron variant comes even as the Chinese capital has been put on high alert ahead of the arrival of international athletes. Local spread of the Omicron variant was first reported less than a week ago in the port city of Tianjin, neighboring Beijing, and has since spread to other Chinese cities.

At a news conference, officials said the Omicron case was first detected on Saturday morning after the person developed a low-grade fever on Friday and took a voluntary test.

Within hours of the positive result, city health officials had cordoned off the patient’s residential complex as well as the office building where the person worked, and ordered more than 2,000 tests for people at those sites.

The Winter Olympics have put pressure on Beijing to protect the capital amid an influx of international travellers. A countdown clock to the Olympic Games in Beijing.


Photo:

Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

By evening, authorities had released a long list of places the person had visited in the past two weeks, including shopping malls, restaurants and a new ski resort that is not used for the Olympics. Citizens who passed through any of these places at the same time as the patient were told to report to authorities and follow quarantine rules or risk being found in violation of the law, officials warned.

“Your cooperation is vital for the capital’s Covid checks,” said Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the city’s Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Ms Pang said the city faced the threat of imported and locally transmitted cases.

Beijing’s response is in line with China’s “Covid-zero” policy which tries to quickly eradicate epidemics wherever they appear. Cities across China have complied with a relatively cohesive plan of lockdowns and mass testing to quell outbreaks as they have emerged over the past two years.

In Xi’an, a city in central China, authorities have confined the city’s 13 million residents to their homes for weeks as they try to bring cases under control. On Saturday, Xi’an officials said the local wave of infections was coming to an end and began lifting restrictions in parts of the city.

In Tianjin, authorities last weekend launched a mass testing campaign of the entire population of the city of 14 million after two cases of local transmission of the Omicron variant were identified. On Friday, Tianjin said it found 203 locally transmitted cases, although it did not specify how many of those cases were of the Omicron variant.

The Winter Olympics have pressured officials in Beijing to protect the capital amid an influx of international travelers who could potentially bring the virus from abroad, especially as the Omicron variant causes an increase in the number of cases worldwide.

Beijing has made arrangements for Winter Games participants to operate in a so-called closed loop, isolated from the rest of the city.

Authorities have urged residents not to travel during the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins days before the opening ceremony of the Winter Games on February 4. They also tightened restrictions for people entering the city from other parts of China. Any city with even a single local Covid-19 infection will be banned from selling plane tickets to the capital, one of the city’s official newspapers said this week.

Officials said they aimed to prevent imported cases linked to the Winter Olympics from getting worse and spreading into domestic transmissions.

Beijing officials said the city’s hundreds of medical clinics were closely monitoring infections, while a force of more than 3,000 workers led by epidemiologists was mobilized to trace contacts.

Write to Wenxin Fan at Wenxin.Fan@wsj.com

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Beijing reports Omicron infection three weeks before Winter Olympics

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