BEIJING -Cities across China are imposing tougher restrictions to try to control new outbreaks of COVID-19, with Tianjin now battling the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has already been detected in at least two other provinces.
Tianjin officials said at a Tuesday press briefing that 49 cases had been confirmed during the latest outbreak. The city of 14 million people, around 100km (62 miles) from Beijing, is now implementing tough new controls to stop the coronavirus from spreading, especially to neighbouring Beijing.
The outbreak in the city has been linked to cases in the city of Anyang in the central Chinese province of Henan, where there have been 84 confirmed infections since Saturday.
Residents leaving Tianjin will be forced to submit negative COVID-19 tests, with restrictions enforced by 279 checkpoints around the city, said Liu Daogang, vice-director of Tianjin’s transportation department.
The country’s Omicron surge comes just weeks before the Lunar New Year, a peak travel period for millions, and cities across China are advising people to stay put, especially as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics at the start of next month.
Zhang Boli, a government medical adviser, told state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday that Omicron “can’t be taken lightly” even if the symptoms are not as severe as previous variants.
China has ordered the cancellation of more than two dozen scheduled flights from the United States after numerous passengers tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived in China.
“Facing Omicron directly, we found the speed of transmission was really quite fast,” said Zhang Ying, an official with Tianjin’s disease control centre, speaking in an interview aired on state television late on Monday.
“Whether it is in terms of virus origin tracing or epidemiological investigations, the Omicron variant has brought along unprecedentedly massive challenges and difficulties,” she said.
Tianjin confirmed its first two locally transmitted cases of Omicron at the weekend, and Zhang said 20 infected people were discovered in the first 24 hours.
The city has imposed travel restrictions and launched a mass testing programme to help prevent the variant from spreading.
China reported 192 new confirmed nationwide coronavirus cases for Jan. 10, up from 157 a day earlier. Of the total, 110 were locally transmitted, up from 97 a day earlier.
There were 87 cases in highly populated Henan province, according to a statement by the National Health Commission.
The provincial capital of Zhengzhou has shut non-essential public facilities like beauty salons, banned dining in restaurants, and stopped taxis and ride-hailing platforms from operating in quarantined areas, local officials told a briefing on Tuesday.
Henan’s Anyang confirmed on Monday that two of its new cases were part of the same Omicron transmission chain as Tianjin. It is unclear how many of the other cases in Henan are Omicron-related.
A separate Omicron infection was reported on Monday in the city of Wuxi in Jiangsu province, about 120km (75 miles) from Shanghai on China’s eastern coast. The patient had travelled from Australia to Shanghai on Jan. 5 before transferring to Wuxi.
With the Lunar New Year approaching, other regions are also leaving nothing to chance.
Authorities in the southeastern city of Shenzhen closed a subway station on Tuesday and urged residents not to buy goods from high-risk countries.
The southeastern island province of Hainan, a popular tourist spot, also announced that visitors would have to present a negative COVID-19 test before they could enter.
China also reported 50 new asymptomatic cases on Monday, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from 42.
There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. As of Jan. 10, mainland China had 103,968 confirmed cases.