The northern Chinese city of Tianjin began testing its 14 million inhabitants after detecting what authorities fear is the first coronavirus outbreak in the country caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
City authorities asked residents to leave their homes just to take the test, after identifying a focus of about twenty adults and children infected with coronavirus, including two with the Omicron variant.
Authorities said the virus had already been circulating and therefore expected the number of infected to rise.
China has redoubled its zero tolerance strategy with Covid-19 in the final stretch to the Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin on February 4 in the country’s capital.
Beijing is 115 kilometers northwest of Tianjin, and many people travel to and from Tianjin by car or a high-speed train that takes less than an hour.
Millions of people are confined to their homes in two other Chinese cities, Xi’an and Yuzhou., which are further away but face larger sprouts, both caused by the Delta variant.
The Yuzhou outbreak is also affecting Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, 70 kilometers further north. The city has launched a massive testing campaign and will close all schools from Monday.
First confirmed cases
The first two confirmed coronavirus cases in Tianjin were those of a 10-year-old boy and a 29-year-old woman working in a school, both infected with the Omicron variant, the Chinese National Health Commission said from Beijing.
Subsequent tests of their close contacts found another 18 cases, while 767 more tests came back negative, the commission added, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
Among those infected are 15 students between the ages of eight and 13 from the same school, as well as school staff and four parents.
The testing campaign will last two days, the commission said.
Local authorities said that some stations of two subway lines were closed to prevent the virus from spreading further.
China already reported a dozen cases of the Omicron variant, the vast majority of them among people who arrived from abroad and were placed in isolation.
According to official figures, Since the beginning of the pandemic, China has only registered 100,000 cases of coronavirus, of which 4,636 died..