China orders 14 million people to get Covid-19 test in one city to quash outbreak

The city’s Covid-19 prevention and control office said all those who tested positive in the initial testing round were found to have the Omicron variant

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The northern Chinese city of Tianjin has ordered a second round of Covid-19 testing on all 14 million residents following the discovery of 97 cases of the Omicron variant during initial screenings which began on Sunday.

Residents must remain where they are until the results of all the nucleic acid tests are received, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

President Xi of China
President Xi of China

Xinhua said authorities have carried out almost 12 million tests so far, with 7.8 million samples returned. Infections were first reported on Saturday in the city that is only about an hour from Beijing, which is due to host the Winter Olympics from February 4.

The city’s Covid-19 prevention and control office said all those who tested positive in the initial testing round were found to have the Omicron variant, of which China has so far only reported a handful of cases.

The source of the outbreak is still unknown and many who are spreading the strain may be doing so unwittingly because they show no symptoms.

Millions more are under lockdown in other Chinese cities under the strict “dynamic zero-case policy” that has allowed China to largely contain major outbreaks, although at considerable cost to the local economy.

Hong Kong has closed kindergartens and primary schools after infections were discovered among students, banned flights from the United States and seven other countries, and held 2,500 passengers on a cruise ship for coronavirus testing on Wednesday as the city attempted to stem an emerging Omicron outbreak.

The semiautonomous Chinese city has tightened pandemic-related restrictions in recent days after discovering the Omicron variant had spread beyond people arriving from overseas.

In total, China announced 166 new cases of Covid-19 in the 24 hours before Wednesday, including 33 in Tianjin and 118 in Henan province, but just eight in the city of Xi’an, home to the famed Terracotta Warrior statues and major industries, where a lockdown was imposed on December 23.

Authorities also released news of an inspection in Henan last week carried out by Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who called for stepped-up measures to prevent the spread of both the Delta and Omicron variants.

Covid has spread to three cities in the province, including Yuzhou, Anyang, and the provincial capital Zhengzhou, prompting travel bans and various levels of lockdown.

Mr Sun was quoted as saying: “It is necessary to do a good job in guaranteeing the living needs of the people in the closed and controlled communities, ensure the basic medical needs of the people during the epidemic period, and ensure that the people’s demands can be responded to and resolved in a timely manner.”

Some Xi’an residents have complained about their inability to source food and other daily necessities.