China reports first case of Omicron coronavirus in mainland
The case, which was reported on Tuesday in the southern city of Guangzhou, came a day after health authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin said they had detected the first Omicron infection in mainland China – as well as in a traveler who had arrived from abroad. .
The Tianjin case was identified as an asymptomatic carrier on arrival. The individual had already been isolated while genome sequencing confirmed that it possessed the Omicron variant – indicating that the variant was not directly exposed to the local population.
As for the second case, it concerns a 67-year-old man who entered China on November 27 in Shanghai and underwent two weeks of central quarantine as he repeatedly tested negative. The man then traveled from Shanghai to Guangzhou on Air China flight CA1837. AirChina staff confirmed to CNN that the flight was nearly full, with all economy seats filled and only six in business class.
Then the man went into home quarantine. It was tested again 12 – 15 days after it first arrived in China, and the result came back positive in the early hours of December. A subsequent genome sequencing reviewed by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it to be a form of Omicron, according to the authorities.
Unlike in Tianjin’s case, the man’s case was diagnosed as a confirmed case – which means he had symptoms. Officials said he is now being treated in hospital in isolation. After he was diagnosed, 10,544 people related to the man were tested for the virus – so far all results have been negative.
Much is still unknown about the fast-spreading Omicron cultivar, including the incubation period. The variant carries an unusually high number of mutations that scientists fear would make it more transmissible and less susceptible to existing vaccines.
Last month, Omicron was identified in two returning travelers in separate rooms on the same floor of a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong, leading scientists to believe it passed through the air in the hotel lobby.
In China, all overseas arrivals must be tested for Covid before leaving the airport, followed by at least two weeks of central quarantine. This is often followed by another long period of isolation at home. Throughout the process, international arrivals will be refused contact with the wider community until they have completed the required quarantine process.
But China’s ambitious zero-tolerance strategy — consisting of mass testing, sudden lockdowns and mass quarantines — also comes with significant economic costs, as well as no disruption to daily life.
Beijing is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics in February. As the event approaches, authorities are resorting to increasingly drastic measures to contain the local outbreak, which continues to spread at an ever-increasing rate. The country has now reported locally transmitted cases every day for the past eight weeks.
On Tuesday, eastern Zhejiang Province, home to the country’s major manufacturing and export hubs, reported 44 new cases, bringing the total number of cases in the past week to more than 200.
Authorities in virus-hit areas quickly quarantined tens of thousands of residents, suspended businesses, events and tour groups, and canceled flights, ferries and bus services.
Travel restrictions in medium and high-risk areas will remain in place until March 15 next year – long after the Winter Olympics are over and very close to the end of the country’s annual legislative meetings in Beijing.
Keeping infections out of the Chinese capital is a top priority for the government as the city prepares for the Games. All flights from Ningbo, a major industrial hub, to Beijing have been canceled while only one daily flight from Hangzhou, the provincial capital, to Beijing is allowed.
There were also reports of injuries in other parts of the country. In the north, Inner Mongolia has reported 5 asymptomatic cases and 4 asymptomatic infections, while Heilongjiang and Shanxi provinces have reported one confirmed case, according to the National Health Commission.
In the southern province of Guangdong, two people were tested at a manufacturing center in Dongguan on Monday, leading to a local lockdown.
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