The first locally transmitted case of Omicron was detected in China’s capital, Beijing, officials said, weeks before the Winter Olympics were to be held.
State television reported on Saturday that the new COVID infection had been identified as the Omicron strain.
Lab tests revealed “Omicron variant-specific mutations” in the person, Pang Xinghuo, an official with the city’s disease control authority, told a press briefing.
The announcement comes a day after the southern city of Zhuhai imposed travel restrictions on residents as a mass testing campaign uncovered seven infections.
Millions of people across the country have been ordered to stay at home in recent weeks, with dozens of domestic flights canceled and factories closed, as the country tries to control a series of small coronavirus outbreaks, including several. of the Omicron variant, ahead of the Olympics, which are due to begin on February 4.
Despite these restrictive measures, Jules Boykoff, professor and chair of the Department of Politics and Government at the University of the Pacific, warned that it will be difficult to contain the spread of Omicron among athletes.
“A lockdown should probably help contain [the spread of the virus] to some extent but we have seen similar measures around the Tokyo Olympics which just happened a few months ago and yet even with those over 800 cases have arisen inside the se -called Olympic bubble,” Boykoff said.
“Because of the transmissibility [of Omicron] we have serious issues on our hands regarding the Beijing Olympics,” he added.
A locally transmitted case of Omicron has been discovered in the capital’s Haidian district, home to many tech company headquarters, a city official Pang told a news conference, a rare violation of Beijing’s tightly guarded COVID-19 defenses.
Authorities are testing other occupants of the patient’s residential compound and office building and have restricted access to 17 locations linked to the infected person, Pang said.
Beijing has long banned people from certain parts of the country who have reported cases, while requiring all arrivals to provide recent COVID-19 test reports. Residents have also been urged in recent weeks not to leave town for the upcoming Spring Festival holiday.
On Friday, the coastal city of Zhuhai, which borders Macau’s gambling hub, said Omicron was detected in one mildly ill patient and six asymptomatic patients.
Zhuhai officials have asked residents to avoid leaving the city “unless necessary”, with those leaving required to show negative COVID test results within the previous 24 hours.
The city on Friday launched mass testing for its population of 2.4 million after a COVID case was detected in nearby Zhongshan earlier in the week.
Businesses such as beauty salons, card rooms, gyms and cinemas were ordered to close on Thursday, with authorities announcing the suspension of public bus routes in parts of the city.
China has kept COVID-19 cases relatively low throughout the pandemic thanks to its zero-tolerance strategy of immediately ordering mass testing and strict lockdowns when infections are detected.
Tougher lockdowns have been imposed on smaller Chinese cities where millions have been ordered to stay home and get tested, while economic hubs such as Shanghai and Beijing have locked down and tested only specific neighborhoods in more targeted efforts.
But the fast-spreading Omicron variant has been testing that strategy in recent weeks, popping up in the port city of Tianjin near Beijing before spreading to the central city of Anyang.
National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng told reporters on Saturday that the country faces a “double challenge” from the Delta and Omicron strains of the virus.
He warned that regions that had not yet experienced outbreaks “must not relax” their prevention measures and “strengthen risk auditing”.