Chinese cities on high Covid-19 alert as peak Chinese New Year travel season starts

People queueing for Covid-19 testing at a residential compound in Anyang, Henan province, on Jan 15, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Several Chinese cities went on high Covid-19 alert as the Chinese New Year holiday travel season started on Monday (Jan 17), requiring travellers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the Omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.

The authorities have warned that the highly contagious Omicron adds to the increased risk of Covid-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Chinese New Year holiday starting at the end of the month.

Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday that travellers need to report their trips to communities, employers or hotels three days ahead of arrival.

The south-western city of Yulin said on Saturday that those who want to enter should fill in a digital form one day in advance with information about themselves, including their health credentials and trip details.

Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub Shenzhen each detected one domestically transmitted Omicron case.

The possibility that the Omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can’t be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority, said on Monday.

Li Ang, vice-director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine Omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.

The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one Omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.

So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local Omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travellers arriving from overseas.

China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6 per cent. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighbouring Hebei province starting Feb 4.

Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.

China reported 163 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Sunday, official data showed on Monday, up from 65 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths on Sunday, leaving the death toll at 4,636. As at Jan 16, mainland China had 105,087 confirmed cases with symptoms, including both local ones and those arriving from overseas.

The latest increase in infections was mainly driven by more cases in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where Omicron has been found in local clusters.

Tianjin and Anyang reported slightly more than 600 local symptomatic infections from the current outbreaks, smaller than many clusters overseas, but the authorities there have still put restrictions on movement within the cities and outside trips.

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