Officials from Tianjin in northern China, near Beijing, announced on Sunday that the entire population would be tested for coronavirus. The virus was discovered in 20 people, including two who were infected by the Omicron variant.
The city also announced a number of restrictions to try and contain the outbreak. The first infections were confirmed Saturday by a 10-year-old girl, and a woman aged 29 who works at an after school center. Later that day, testing and tracing revealed 18 more positive results among their contacts, which included 15 students.
Tianjin lies about 70 miles from Beijing. This is why the sudden influx of cases is particularly concerning for Chinese leaders. The capital is preparing to host the Winter Olympics within a month.
Li Hongzhong, the Communist Party secretary for Tianjin, vowed that the city would “fulfill to the utmost” its role as a “moat” protecting Beijing, official news outlets reported.
“The city’s pandemic prevention is at a crucial moment,” Mr. Li told officials, according to the state-run Tianjin Daily. “Tracing the source of the outbreak must be the most urgent and important task.”
China has long been a leader in citywide testing. But even with the country’s enormous resources for testing residents and tracing their movements, getting a handle on the outbreak in Tianjin might not be easy.
Zhang Ying, deputy director of the Tianjin Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference that the virus may have “been already spreading in the community for some time” before detection. The positive tests were not performed on the girl aged 10 years old or the woman aged 29.
Experts also stated that the Omicron strain found among the Tianjin residents could not be the same one as that found in recent international visitors to the city.
Many Chinese people have been proud that their country, since quelling the world’s first outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, has avoided the waves of infections that have swept most of the world. But the authoritarian state’s stringent controls, which have kept China largely sealed off, have not been able to keep the virus out entirely, and the extreme contagiousness of Omicron could present a new level of danger.
Residents were told by Tianjin authorities to limit their travel and to not leave the city except for emergencies. They also closed down some subway stations and placed 30 residential areas under complete lockdown.
But officials also seemed to try to reassure residents that Tianjin would not repeat the missteps of Xi’an, a city of 13 million in northwestern China. Xi’an saw a surge of public anger after a rushed lockdown led to food shortages and to some people being refused medical treatment, including at least one pregnant woman who suffered a miscarriage after being denied entry to a hospital.
Tianjin Party chief Li ordered local officials to ensure residents receive their daily needs, which included medical care.
Source: NY Times