Omicron outbreak: Chinese city testing all residents

BEIJING – The numbers are small, but the major port of Tianjin could face its first omicron outbreak of any size in China, less than four weeks before the Winter Olympics open in neighboring Beijing.

The city began mass testing for its 14 million residents Sunday after a group of 20 children and adults tested positive for COVID-19, including at least two using the Omicron variant. Officials said the virus is spreading and so the number of cases could increase.

China has reinforced its strict zero-tolerance strategy in the run-up to the Olympic Games, which open on February 4. The Chinese capital is located 115 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Tianjin, and many people regularly travel back and forth by car or on a flight. A high-speed train connection takes less than one hour.

Elsewhere, millions of people are confined to their homes in Xi’an and Liuzhou, two distant cities but more outbreaks. Both are returned to the delta variable. The outbreak in Liuzhou also affects Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province 70 kilometers (40 miles) to the north. Zhengzhou is conducting mass testing and closing schools from Monday.

The first two cases confirmed in Tianjin are a 10-year-old girl and a 29-year-old woman who work in an after-school centre. Both have the Omicron variant. In the subsequent testing of close contacts, another 18 turned out to be positive and 767 had tested negative as of Saturday night.

Among those infected are 15 students aged between eight and 13, an employee at an after-school center and four parents. The citywide test will be completed over two days. Tianjin has also closed some subway stations on two lines in a bid to prevent further spread.

China has reported about a dozen cases of Omicron previously, most of them among people who arrived from abroad and have been quarantined. In one case in mid-December, the infection was only discovered after the person completed two weeks of quarantine, and spread to a few close contacts in the southern city of Guangzhou.

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