‘Zero-Covid’ China fights to contain Omicron as restrictions tighten

Tianjin, which on Saturday detected the first community spread of Omicron in China, on Wednesday launched a second round of mass tests on its 14 million people. Tuesday noon, 97 people had tested positive.

The outbreak has already spread to Anyang, a city in Henan Province some 300 miles (482 kilometers) away, causing a complete lockdown. The northeast China’s Dalian city of Dalian said on Wednesday that two recent returnees from Tianjin tested positive, raising concerns that the new variant has spread to another city.

The Omicron outbreak is of particular concern to authorities in Beijing, which is about 80 miles northwest of Tianjin – and about 30 minutes by high-speed train. The Chinese capital is due to host the Winter Olympics on February 4.

Officials in Tianjin told a press conference on Tuesday that all bus services to Beijing had been suspended. Train tickets from Tianjin to Beijing have been closed for online purchase since Sunday evening.

As of Wednesday, 425 flights were canceled at Tianjin Binhai International Airport, accounting for 95% of all scheduled flights, according to the flight tracking app VariFlight.

Authorities in Tianjin on Sunday ordered citizens not to leave the city unless absolutely necessary. Those wishing to leave must present a negative Covid test carried out within 48 hours and obtain approval from their employer or local authorities.

“When we are directly confronted with Omicron, we found that its transmission speed is really very fast,” Zhang Ying, deputy director of the Tianjin Disease Control Center, said Monday in an interview with the public broadcaster CCTV. .

“Therefore, whether in terms of finding the origin of the virus, epidemiological investigations or restrictions and controls, the Omicron variant posed challenges of unprecedented magnitude,” she said. .

On Tuesday, Anyang city in Henan province was placed under tight control after two cases of Omicron linked to the Tianjin outbreak were identified over the weekend. The city has reported a total of 123 cases.

In Anyang, the 5.5 million residents are confined to their homes, while businesses and factories are closed. More than 4,000 students and staff at one school have been moved to government-run quarantine facilities after nearly a dozen people tested positive for the virus. State media videos show elementary through high school students dressed in full hazmat suits uploaded onto buses.

A college student who returned to Anyang for the winter break from Tianjin on December 28 reportedly brought back the virus – suggesting that the variant has already been spreading in Tianjin for nearly two weeks, at least.

Health officials in Dalian City, Liaoning Province on Wednesday said two university students who returned from Tianjin on Saturday tested positive for Covid in the morning.

Authorities did not say whether the students had Omicron, but their travel history showed that they spent five days in Jinnan District, where the Omicron outbreak was most severe, before leaving Tianjin in train. They tested negative when they left Tianjin – and again on Monday, after arriving in Dalian.

Residents line up for Covid tests in Tianjin on January 10.

The arrival of Omicron has again raised concerns about the effectiveness of Chinese-made vaccines such as Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Vaccines, including the more effective mRNA vaccines made in the West, offer less protection against Omicron. Data from the United States shows that fully vaccinated people now represent a growing share of people hospitalized with Covid-19, but hospitalizations among those who have received a booster are still rare, and the risk gap by vaccination status – especially in non-vaccinated individuals – was broad.
In Tianjin, epidemiological surveys of 80 people infected with Omicron found that 76 of them had been fully vaccinated with vaccines made in China, including 20 that had been boosted. Three had received only one dose, while one individual, a child, had not yet been vaccinated.

China has not approved Pfizer or other mRNA vaccines made in the West.

In addition to Omicron, Delta cases continued to crop up across the country, prompting local authorities to impose a wave of restrictions. A growing list of cities, including Beijing, has urged residents not to leave the city during the Lunar New Year holidays, the most important festival for Chinese people to reunite with their families.

In Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, authorities on Tuesday closed all non-essential businesses, such as beauty salons, banned dining in restaurants and suspended buses and taxis in high-risk areas. Zhengzhou has reported more than 100 cases this year.

In Yuzhou, another city in Henan, its 1.2 million inhabitants have been locked up since January 2 to fight an epidemic in the Delta, which has infected 234 people.

Across China, around 20 million people are now under strict lockdown, including 13 million residents of the northwestern city of Xi’an, who are entering their third week of home lockdown.

And in the southern metropolis of Shenzhen, eight Delta cases have been reported since Friday. Shenzhen health officials have accused imported goods as the likely source of the outbreak.

China reported 166 symptomatic infections on Wednesday, including 118 in Henan Province, 33 in Tianjin, 8 in Xi’an and 7 in Shenzhen.

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