The Chinese capital, Beijing, has reported its first locally transmitted case of Omicron coronavirus variant, state media reported on Saturday, less than three weeks before the Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
An official at the city’s disease control authority said at a press conference that laboratory testing found “mutations specific to the Omicron variant” in the person. The authorities have since published a detailed account of the patient’s activity that dates back to 31 December.
Haidian district officials in Beijing said they had sealed up the infected person’s residential compound and workplace. They have also collected 2,430 samples for testing from people linked to the two locations.
The detection of the highly infectious Omicron variant comes less than three weeks before the opening ceremony of the Winter Games on 4 February, and the lunar new year celebrations that begin on 1 February. Public health experts say the new variant poses the biggest threat to the country’s zero-Covid strategy.
The first Omicron case in Mainland China was detected in the northern city of Tianjin on 9 December from an overseas returnee, who showed no symptoms on arrival. In the past month, at least 14 provincial-level places in China – including Shanghai – have reported Omicron cases, both imported and locally transmitted, according to state media.
“Now Beijing’s epidemic prevention and control work faces the double risk of overseas and domestic cases,” Pang Xinghuo, the deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said at the press conference.
In the past few weeks, dozens of domestic and international flights have been suspended to control the spread of the disease. The authorities have also urged citizens not to leave town unnecessarily during the lunar new year holiday period.
The Chinese capital has been on high alert since the first reported Omicron case in neighbouring Tianjin last month. On Saturday, Xu Hejian, the Chinese capital’s spokesperson, urged the municipal government departments to “ensure the safety of the capital, the Winter Olympics, and its residents”.
Last week, Beijing’s traffic management authority asked people to stay away from the special vehicles used to ferry athletes to and from the Winter Olympics venues in the event of a car incident.
The Winter Games, which begin on 4 February, will be kept in a “closed loop”. This means that only a limited number of spectators may be allowed in venues. Overseas spectators will not be allowed to enter the country, and personnel involved in the Games will have to avoid contact with people outside the loop.
On Saturday, China’s National Health Commission reported 165 new confirmed coronavirus cases for 14 January, down from 201 a day earlier. Of the new infections, 104 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared to 143 a day earlier.
Additional reporting by Reuters news agency