China detects first case of Omicron coronavirus variant on mainland

By Nectar Gan, CNN

China has detected its first case of Omicron coronavirus variant on the continent, posing a new challenge to the zero covid strategy in the run-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Health officials in the northern port city of Tianjin were able to identify and isolate the carrier of the variant – a traveler who arrived from overseas on December 9, before he entered the community, said. official media reported Monday.

The infected person was first identified as an asymptomatic carrier. Subsequent genome sequencing examined by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it to be the Omicron variant, according to state media.

The individual is now being treated in hospital isolation, the report said, without providing further details.

The fast-spreading Omicron variant has raised alarm bells around the world, prompting governments to impose travel restrictions. It has been reported in more than 50 countries since its first detection in South Africa at the end of last month.

Much remains unknown about the variant, which carries an unusually high number of mutations that scientists believe could make it more transmissible and less sensitive to existing vaccines.

Chinese public health experts and state media have already expressed confidence in the country’s ability to fight the new variant, citing China’s strict border control measures and its ability to quickly identify and isolate infected cases and their close contacts.

In China, all overseas arrivals must undergo a Covid test before leaving the airport, followed by at least two weeks of centralized quarantine. This is often followed by another long period of home isolation.

The newly identified infected traveler was part of the “closed loop management” of overseas arrivals upon entering China, state media said – meaning they had not directly exposed local residents to the variant.

But China’s ambitious zero-tolerance strategy – consisting of mass testing, instant lockdowns and extensive quarantines – also comes with significant economic costs, as well as disruption to daily life.

As the Winter Olympics approach, authorities are resorting to increasingly stringent measures to curb local epidemics, which have continued to escalate with increasing frequency. The country has now reported locally transmitted cases every day for the past eight weeks.

Eastern Zhejiang Province, home to the country’s main manufacturing and export centers, on Tuesday reported 44 new cases, bringing the total number of cases over the past week to more than 200.

Authorities in areas affected by the virus quickly quarantined tens of thousands of residents, suspended businesses, events and tourist groups, and canceled flights, ferries and bus services.

Travel restrictions in medium and high risk areas will be in place until March 15 next year – well after the end of the Winter Olympics and around the time when the country’s annual legislative meetings come together. end in Beijing.

Keeping infections away from the Chinese capital is a top priority for the government as the city prepares for the February Games. All flights from Ningbo City, a major industrial hub, to Beijing have been canceled, while only one daily flight from Hangzhou, the provincial capital, to Beijing is allowed.

In other parts of the country infections are also being reported. In the north, Inner Mongolia has reported 5 symptomatic cases and 4 asymptomatic infections, while Heilongjiang and Shaanxi provinces have each reported one confirmed case, according to the National Health Commission.

In southern Guangdong Province, two people from the Dongguan Manufacturing Center tested positive on Monday, prompting a local lockdown.

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