Beijing tests 2 million for Covid-19 as Winter Olympics loom

Beijing reported nine confirmed local Covid-19 cases and three asymptomatic cases. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) – Beijing city officials on Sunday (Jan24) said all two million residents of a neighbourhood where they identified a small cluster of Covid-19 infections will be tested, less than two weeks ahead of the start of the Winter Olympics.

The announcement came days after China’s postal service ordered workers to disinfect international deliveries after authorities claimed mail could be the source of recent coronavirus cases.

Some 30 infections have been detected in the past week in Beijing, one of the world’s most populous cities.

Both the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control have said the risk of being infected from contaminated surfaces is low.

China’s cases constitute a tiny fraction of the massive surge in countries around the globe, with the highly contagious Omicron variant driving a fresh spike in infections.

Still, multiple small outbreaks around China – including in Beijing – have tested the country’s strict “zero Covid” policy, which authorities have pursued even as the rest of the world has gradually reopened.

Local authorities have identified Fengtai district in southern Beijing as the epicentre of a cluster of six new confirmed infections, taking the number of cases in the capital to 34.

All two million of the area’s residents will be tested for Covid-19 starting from Sunday.

The authorities have asked residents of “risky areas”, including a neighbourhood of Fengtai, to not leave the city, a local government spokesman said at a Sunday news conference, adding that Fengtai residents have been asked to avoid mass gatherings.

Some kindergartens in Fengtai have told parents that children who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 will not be able to attend, two parents told Reuters.

Reuters could not determine whether the requirement is a government regulation or the kindergartens’ own rules.

A mother surnamed Wang, whose child attends at a private kindergarten in Fengtai, said a teacher told her last Friday that unvaccinated children will not be allowed to return from Monday citing new government regulations, without providing Wang any official documents.

“This is not on a voluntary basis. This is coercion,” Wang told Reuters. She said she has filed a complaint with authorities in the hope of having the requirement removed.

Reuters could not reach local authorities for comment on a non-business day.

Meanwhile, Beijing city has also asked residents to proactively conduct nucleic acid tests if they find themselves with Covid-19-like symptoms within 14 days of receiving any deliveries from overseas, local authorities said in a statement dated Saturday.

The authorities have suggested that Beijing’s first case of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus could have arrived via a package from Canada.

Mainland China reported 56 new Covid-19 cases on Jan 22, down from 63 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said. Of the new cases, 19 were locally transmitted, versus 23 a day earlier, it said.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 34 from 43.

There were no new fatalities, leaving the death toll at 4,636. As of Jan 22, mainland China had confirmed 105,603 cases.

With the Beijing Games starting on Feb 4, international delegates, media personnel, and some athletes have already begun arriving.

In an effort to thwart the coronavirus, China is sealing the Olympics inside a tightly controlled bubble cocooning thousands of people and stretching nearly 200km.

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