2 local Omicron cases prompt Tianjin to launch mass testing

It is not confirmed yet whether the infections are related to the imported case of Omicron variant infection in the city.

The northern coastal Chinese city of Tianjin began testing its population of around 14 million on Sunday after at least two local cases of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant were detected, state media reported.

Tianjin emerged as a new area of concern after more than 20 COVID-19 cases were reported there in the last few days, most of them imported from abroad, according to the National Health Commission.

The infections were reported from 6pm on Friday to 9pm on Saturday in Jinnan District, and the gene sequencing found the first two locally transmitted confirmed cases were infected with the Omicron variant, according to the city's headquarters for COVID-19 prevention and control.

The other 18 infections are mainly students and their family members related to a daycare center and a primary school where the first two cases were from, Gu Qing, director of the municipal health commission, said at a press conference late on Saturday.

The virus has spread to three generations in the latest resurgence, and more cases may emerge, said Zhang Ying, deputy director of the city's center for disease control and prevention.

It is not confirmed yet whether the infections are related to the imported case of Omicron variant infection in the city.

Tianjin was the first Chinese city to report the new variant, when it was detected in an overseas returnee in mid-December. The city is two hours' drive from Beijing and a major gateway to the Chinese capital.

The city launched its mass testing early Sunday, advising residents to stay at or near home to be available for the community-level nucleic-acid screening.

Residents in four districts would be tested over the next 24 hours while other districts would be tested the next day, the Tianjin government said.

Residents will only get the green health code necessary to travel once they receive a negative result, it said.

The city advised residents not to leave town for unnecessary reasons, the government said late on Saturday.

Tianjin closed some metro stations, bus routes and tourist sites as a precautionary measure on Sunday, and called off a teaching qualification exam.

Tianjin Airlines said passengers with domestic flight tickets through January 28 were eligible for a refund or free rebooking.

High-speed train

Meanwhile, the Beijing Health Commission advised on Sunday that commuters between Tianjin and Beijing should work from home. It said people should not leave Tianjin for Beijing unless it is necessary.

Thousands of people commute between the two cities as it takes hardly 30 minutes by the high-speed train.

The Tianjin commerce commission said it had activated an emergency plan to ensure stable supply of food and daily necessities. The city's current stock of rice, noodles and oil could last 30 days, while fresh vegetable supplies is enough for three to four days.

China reported 165 confirmed coronavirus cases for Saturday, up from 159 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said yesterday.

Of the new infections, 92 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the NHC, from 95 a day earlier.

Central Henan Province remains the focus of the latest coronavirus outbreak, with 56 community cases reported across five cities and a county.

Schools in Zhengzhou City, capital of Henan, will suspend offline classes from today, in an effort to effectively block the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, authorities said on Saturday.

The city's COVID-19 prevention and control headquarters said from today, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools will close off their campuses and offer online courses for students.

All extracurricular training institutions are required to suspend offline teaching activities.

Xi'an – a northwestern city of 13 million that has been under lockdown for more than two weeks – reported 30 cases amid a waning outbreak, while the port city of Ningbo in the eastern province of Zhejiang detected two. The southern Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen reported one case.

China has fully vaccinated more than 86 percent of its population of 1.4 billion, according to official data.

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