The fast-spreading Omicron variant has hit Beijing amid emerging COVID-19 clusters across the country, raising pressure on the regime to keep the virus at bay just weeks before the city is due to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Beijing on Jan. 15 reported its first locally transmitted Omicron case from Haidian—the second-largest district located in the city’s northwest. Officials responded by sealing off 17 “risk areas” associated with the COVID-19 case. All residents of the neighborhood compound where the person lives have temporarily been barred from leaving their homes.
Despite the stringent control efforts, more than 14 provinces across China have reported Omicron cases as of Jan. 15, according to He Qinghua, a senior official with China's National Health Commission's Disease Prevention and Control Bureau. The official didn’t disclose the exact infection numbers, but Mi Feng, a spokesperson for the commission, described the situation as “grim.”
China is “facing the two-fold challenge” from Delta and Omicron, He said at a Jan. 15 press conference, noting that with the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year holiday—which coincides with the Beijing Olympics—the risks of COVID-19 transmission are even higher.
Omicron cases linked to Tianjin are officially reported to have risen to 400 as of Jan. 15, spilling into cities as far as Anyang city in central China, and the northeastern city of Dalian.
In December, Beijing implemented travel curbs restricting people from entering the city if the area they're traveling from has had one or more local infections in the past two weeks.
Zhuhai, a city in the southeastern Chinese province of Guangdong bordering Macau, has canceled all flights to Beijing and public bus routes after announcing seven cases of Omicron.
Chinese officials also confirmed local Omicron infections in Shanghai on Jan. 15. The night before, videos shared on social media showed college students fleeing their campuses to avoid being locked inside.
“So scary,” one man says, after he and others slip out from the cordoned school entrance. “I almost didn’t make it.”
To avoid arousing suspicion from security, he says he decided to leave with only his laptop in a backpack, and he shipped his clothing before he left.