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Beijing to test 2 million ahead of Winter Olympics

A security guard stands behind a barricade in an area not accessible to the general public, that will host Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Olympic Park on January 23, 2022 in Beijing, China.

A security guard stands behind a barricade in an area not accessible to the general public, that will host Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Olympic Park on January 23, 2022 in Beijing, China.

China’s capital, Beijing, will test more than two million residents as it deals with a new cluster of COVID-19 cases just two weeks before it hosts the Winter Olympics, city officials said on Sunday.

Beijing’s Fengtai district, the centre of the latest outbreak, reported nine new cases on Sunday — a small number in most places but a break from normalcy in a city where a strict “zero-COVID” strategy has been in place — with the total number over the weekend nearing two dozen.

Xu Hejian, a spokesperson for the Beijing government, said all of Fengtai’s two million residents would be tested in coming days. Under China’s “Zero-COVID” approach, the country still maintains tight restrictions on international travel, and carries out mass testing and quarantining of all close contacts in centralised facilities until cases are brought to zero.

The approach has helped China avoid a major second wave and maintain normalcy at home for much of the past year, although it has come at the cost of continued international isolation.

Beijing is particularly on edge ahead of the Winter Olympics, which President Xi Jinping will open on February 4. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Pakistan’s Imran Khan are among foreign leaders expected to attend.

“We must make every effort to stop the spread as quickly as possible by taking firm, strict and decisive measures,” said Mr. Xu of the Beijing government.

Of the 43 cases in Beijing reported since January 15, six were of the more transmissible Omicron variant, while the rest were Delta.

The Omicron variant has challenged the “Zero-COVID” approach still in place both on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong. On Sunday, Hong Kong reported 140 new cases, most tied to a housing estate, marking the highest daily number since July 2020.

Thousands have been locked down in the housing estate while many close contacts have been sent to quarantine facilities, while mass testing is being carried out. Among the more extraordinary measures, more than 2,000 hamsters have been culled because of spread in a pet-shop, prompting anger from both pet owners and animal rights groups.

While the “Zero-COVID” playbook helped quickly squash earlier clusters, microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung of the University of Hong Kong warned the speed of the current spread suggested more cases “would continue to be uncovered” in the coming weeks.

“It may take around two to three months to calm down,” he was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post. “We have to see if our existing measures are effective enough.”


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 2:47:11 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/beijing-tests-2-million-for-coronavirus-as-winter-olympics-loom/article38314733.ece