China tests 2 million in Beijing and lifts COVID-19 lockdown in Xi’an

(BEIJING, China) – A flurry of COVID-19 cases in Beijing prompted authorities to test millions of people and impose new measures two weeks before the opening of the Winter Olympics. Even as the central Chinese city of Xi’an lifted on Monday, a month-long lockdown has isolated its 13 million residents.

Officials in Beijing said they would conduct a second mass testing of 2 million residents of Fengtai district, where the majority of the capital’s 40 coronavirus cases since Jan. 15 have been confirmed. be found. That comes a day after authorities announced that anyone who bought or has purchased fever, cough or certain other medicines in the past two weeks will have to be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours.
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The stern measures, despite the relatively low number of cases, show the deep concern among government officials in the run-up to the Olympics, which open in Beijing on February 4.

“The current epidemic prevention and control situation is still severe and complicated, and all departments across the city must act proactively and quickly,” said Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian.

“The overall situation is manageable,” he added.

The ruling Communist Party’s COVID-19 “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in drastic efforts to quell any signs of a new outbreak – including the closure of Xi’an and two other cities in October. in advance, while also suspending part of train and plane routes to Beijing to isolate it from outbreak areas.

Overall, the number of new cases reported fell in China from more than 100 a day at the height of the Xi’an outbreak to 18 on Sunday, six of which were in Beijing. Despite the drop, pandemic control measures are still being stepped up ahead of the Olympics, where all participants will be tested daily and completely isolated from the public.

Olympic athletes are required to be vaccinated or quarantined after arriving in China.

Ben Cowling, a public health expert at the University of Hong Kong, said that COVID-19 infections could still leak from the Olympic bubble.

“I estimate there is a high probability that at least one strike will be carried out in Beijing within the next month,” he said.

On the top of the first round of mass testing In the Fengtai area of ​​the capital, targeted testing was conducted Sunday in communities in six other districts, the Beijing Daily reported. It is not clear who is being examined. The newspaper said that in one community, an official said that if a resident had been to a high-risk area in Fengtai or Fangshan, another affected county, the occupants of the entire building would have to checked twice.

The government asked people in high-risk areas of Beijing not to leave the city. Several neighboring provinces have reported cases linked to outbreaks in the capital, including Shandong and Hebei provinces.

Beijing officials say a cluster of Omicrons that infected six people has been brought under control. The outbreak in Fengtai is controlled by Delta and Chinese health officials allege it is related to imported frozen food.

Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control, said that the genetic sequences of the virus samples from the frozen food matched the genetic sequences in 28 infected people. Foreign experts suspect that COVID-19 can be spread easily from packaging.

The announcement of the end of the lockdown in Xi’an follows restart commercial flights from the city over the weekend. The major tourist center and ancient capital, famous for being home to the Terracotta Warriors army, struggled to feed some of its residents in the early days of the shutdown, after people were detained. keep in their home.

Access to Xi’an was suspended on December 22 following an outbreak in Delta. More than 2,000 people have been infected in the city, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of the capital Beijing.

Other outbreaks led the government to impose travel bans on several cities, including the port of Tianjin, about an hour from Beijing. Tough regulations are believed to have prevented major outbreaks across the country, and China has reported relatively few cases of the highly infectious variant of Omicron.

More than 3,000 people attended the Games from January 4 to Sunday, including more than 300 athletes and team officials, organizers said Monday. The rest is the media and other participants. So far, 78 people have tested positive, including one who was a former athlete or team official. China has waived 21 days of regular hotel quarantine for those coming to the Olympics.

The IOC announced on Monday several changes to its COVID-19 policy for the Olympics, including reducing the amount of time an infected person is considered close contact from 14 days to 7 days.


Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu of Taipei, Taiwan, contributed.

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