Beijing faces big test as first Omicron case detected weeks before Olympics

The building in the west of the city has been locked down, everyone inside has been subjected to a mandatory mass Covid test, since an employee tested positive for Omicron on Saturday – the first case recorded. the city’s recognition of the highly transmissible variant.

For the past week, officials in Beijing have been on high alert as an outbreak of Omicron disease spreads in Tianjin, a major port city just 30 minutes away by high-speed rail. This cluster of works has spread to two other cities hundreds of miles away.

According to detailed surveillance data collected by officials, the Beijing woman infected with Omicron has not been in contact with any confirmed cases and has not left the capital in the past 14 days, raising concerns. fear that this variant may have spread in the community.

Unlike most countries in the world, China is pursuing a zero-Covid strategy based on strict restrictions including mass testing, lockdown and long-term isolation for international visitors.

The only case in Beijing has been identified as at the worst possible time for the city, as the city prepares to welcome thousands of athletes to the Olympics – including from other countries. where Omicron is raging.

The danger of this variation spreading among Beijing locals outside of the so-called Olympic bubble – which aims to keep participants separate from the public – comes as authorities warn of ” double pressure of domestic and imported cases.”

After the woman’s case was confirmed, authorities took action, imposing uncompromising lockdowns – trapping people in places like office blocks – and contact tracing and testing. widespread in high-risk areas.

The residential area where the confirmed case is living is just a 15-minute drive from Olympic Park. Entire communities have since been placed on lockdown while people get tested and authorities take environmental samples. CNN staff who drove through the complex over the weekend saw large fences in place to prevent anyone from coming or going.

The residents inside are allowed fresh air, as opposed to tighter lockdowns in other parts of the country, locking everyone in their apartments – but they can’t leave the community confines . Garbage is starting to pile up inside the complex, which only specially designated disposal teams are allowed to handle. Many nearby businesses have closed.

The woman’s workplace is similarly locked down, with large tents set up outside to conduct and process Covid tests for everyone inside until the building is declared safe to enter. reopen.

In another sign of the fervent official response, the woman’s travel history is published in state media, with full details of everywhere she went over a two-week period. The long list includes metro stations, public baths, supermarkets, luxury shopping malls and Dior stores, famous Beijing roast duck restaurants, cinemas, hair salons, comedy venues and even a ski park.

More than 16,000 people with links to those locations have been tested, with all results negative so far, the authorities said Monday — and the city, authorities said. No further cases have been reported yet. At a press conference, authorities raised the possibility that the woman may have contracted the virus after handling international mail.

Chinese officials have repeatedly blamed imported goods for the local outbreak. However, the risk surface transmission of Covid-19 lower than airborne transmission, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last year, the CDC said the virus dies “quickly” on porous surfaces but can last longer on hard surfaces in the home.
A shopping mall in Beijing closed on January 16 after it was reported the city had detected its first case of Omicron.

After news of the single case in Beijing surfaced, many schools in the affected districts switched students to online learning this week, and the city closed a number of scenic spots and temples. worship. Starting January 22, all arrivals to the capital must undergo Covid testing both before and after arrival.

And despite the impending arrival of thousands of Winter Olympic athletes to kick off the Games on February 4, Beijing has moved to suspend dozens of international flights. From Wednesday, all flights from the United States to China have been canceled or potentially halted.

Athletes and staff mostly take special flights only for Olympic certificate holders as part of a “closed loop” balloons, which includes all stadiums, venues, accommodation and catering services, and has its own transportation system.
Wang Guangfa, a respiratory specialist at Peking University First Hospital, said the situation was still difficult to assess because authorities did not know where the woman got the infection from. “It is very likely that new cases will emerge if the cause is not clear,” he said, according to the state tabloid. Global Times.

While any additional infections could cause more restrictions in the coming days, there is no need to overreact to a single case, which will not affect the Olympics. , Wang added.

The Beijing public also seems to share his sentiments, with crowds flocking to the streets for winter festivals on weekends, in sharp contrast to the local lockdown in some districts. On Sunday, many families flocked to a popular lake to skate on its frozen waters.

In addition to Beijing, the growing list of cities across China are also fight to fake Covid outbreaks and the Omicron threat. Variations are discovered for the first time in the community in Tianjin on 8 January and has since been found in seven other cities, including Beijing.

Many cities are now imposing restrictions such as closing public spaces and banning dinner services at restaurants, as well as suspending air travel to the capital.

Posts and videos on Chinese social media show several purported flash-locks in Shanghai last week, trapping anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. At one mall, shoppers were stranded for two days, with officials checking everyone inside and ordering a clean-up before reopening.

A video posted on social media shows a woman outside the shopping mall, crying and reaching for a toddler staring from behind its glass doors.

These measures may seem extreme – but they are still widespread among the majority of the Chinese public, most of whom are able to enjoy life as usual.

And with such high stakes, the authorities don’t stand a chance, knowing that all eyes are on Beijing as the Olympics approach.

CNN’s Nectar Gan contributed to this report.


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