Tianjin tightens restrictions following the discovery of local Omicron cases

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China is tightening pandemic control over Tianjin, a city of 14 million people near Beijing, while its zero-Covid-19 strategy has been tested with the country’s first discovery of community-transmitted cases of Omicron coronavirus.

Over the past day, Chinese authorities have tightened travel controls, closed schools and imposed a series of local quarantines in the city about 120km southeast of the Chinese capital, state media reported.

Residents of Tianjin have been told not to leave the city, and those who do so will require negative tests. The latest measures followed a launch on Sunday 1 a nationwide testing campaign in response to at least two Omicron cases discovered the day before.

Infections marked the first transmission of a highly contagious variant in the community in the world’s most populous country. Tianjin is about a 30-minute high-speed train ride from Beijing, and tens of thousands of people travel between cities daily.

The discovery of Omicron transmission within China’s borders also comes in the middle of a crisis in the central city of Xi’an, which has been under isolation since December 22nd. Authorities have been criticized after a city of 13 million was left without access to medical resources and food.

A Beijing-based immunologist, who asked not to be named, said it was “unclear”. how effective Chinese vaccines are it would be in slowing down or stopping the spread of Omicron.

Despite concerns about Xi’an, strict controls on Beijing as part of its Zero Covid strategy continued to appear to be the “most effective approach” before more effective vaccines or treatments were available in China, the immunologist added.

The National Health Commission reported 199 new coronavirus cases in its latest update Monday, including 99 locally transmitted cases, 23 of which were found in Tianjin. The commission reported 92 local cases on Sunday.

Two more Omicron cases have been reported in Anyang, a city of more than 5 million people in central China, one of which is potentially linked to a student who arrived from Tianjin, local media reported.

The number of cases is far less than many other countries struggling with the outbreak of the Omicron variant. But the confirmed arrival of Omicron poses a significant challenge to the government amid concerns around effectiveness of Chinese-made vaccines.

Global attention to epidemics and the Chinese Communist Party’s response will also intensify in the coming weeks with Winter Olympics should start in Beijing early next month.

Additional reports by Maiqi Ding of Beijing and William Langley of Hong Kong

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