Another central Chinese city reported Omicron cases on Jan. 10, the second city in days, adding fears for the Beijing Winter Olympics just weeks away.
Tianjin, which is about a half-hour from Beijing by train, reported 41 new infections since a child and a young woman were confirmed infected with the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 on Jan. 8. Health officials said they haven’t yet confirmed which strains most of the people were infected with.
The port city responded by sending over 75,000 residents to centralized quarantine over the weekend and barring residents from leaving the city unless necessary.
But Omicron has already arrived in central China’s Henan Province, a region about 400 miles southwest of Beijing.
Anyang city in Henan, a region that’s currently battling a Delta variant outbreak, reported two Omicron cases on Jan. 10. Local officials said that genome sequencing shows the infections were linked to the outbreak in Tianjin.
The authorities said the infections were traced to a college student who returned from Tianjin on Dec. 28, 2021, suggesting that the highly contagious strain has been circulating in communities for nearly two weeks. Anyang has already closed all schools and kindergartens.
Given that the Chinese regime is known to grossly underreport its virus numbers, the official figures likely don’t reflect the true total.
The emergence of the more infectious Omicron strain in the country brings an added urgency in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics, set to open in Beijing on Feb. 4. Officials have previously pledged that the Games would be “safe.”
Ahead of the Olympics, several Chinese cities have imposed harsh lockdown and containment measures under Beijing’s “zero-COVID” policy. The stringent controls in central China’s Xi’an city have left many residents struggling to obtain food and medical care. On New Year’s Day, a late-term pregnant woman miscarried outside a hospital after being refused care when she couldn’t provide a valid COVID test.
In a statement on Jan. 9, Beijing’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control ordered people who had traveled to Tianjin since Dec. 23 to report to their residential communities and take COVID tests.
Tianjin is about 70 miles from Beijing. An estimated 100,000 people regularly travel back and forth, according to state-run media Global Times.
At a press conference on Jan. 10, Gu Qing, director of the Tianjin Municipal Health Commission, stressed that the city would prioritize strengthening controls on trips to Beijing.
People who intend to enter Beijing are required to obtain approval from their employers or residential communities authorities before leaving Tianjin, Gu told reporters.
Trains and buses to Beijing from Tianjin have been suspended. Tianjin officials have set up inspection points at highway exits to dissuade those who intend to enter Beijing from Tianjin.
The megacity is rolling out compulsory testing for its 14 million residents. The mass testing scheme, which it aims to complete by Jan. 11, is part of the effort to “resolutely prevent the virus from spreading to other provinces, regions, and cities, especially Beijing,” local authorities said in a letter to residents on Jan. 10.
As of that afternoon, more than 9.6 million residents had been tested, Gu said.
Tianjin hasn’t given a full lockdown order, but it has sealed off at least 29 residential communities as of Jan. 9.
Two prominent colleges in Tianjin have ordered their students not to leave campus, according to the Global Times.
The stringent controls have worried college students who had expected to go home and stay with their families for the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, which begins on Feb. 1.
Reuters contributed to this report.