The Chinese port city of Tianjin is the latest to get hit by a COVID-19 outbreak. After over 20 cases of infections popped up, including two Omicron incidents, the city started mass testing citizens on Jan. 9.
An additional 20 infections were identified on Sunday, pushing up the total cases to 40. Tianjin is only 115 kilometers (70 miles) from the Chinese capital of Beijing. Consequently, many are questioning the fate of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics scheduled to take place next month.
The presence of Omicron variants among infected individuals has raised concerns since the strain spreads quickly. The two individuals diagnosed with Omicron had no recent history of traveling outside of Tianjin.
“Facing Omicron directly, we found the speed of transmission was really quite fast… Whether it is in terms of virus origin tracing or epidemiological investigations, the Omicron variant has brought along unprecedentedly massive challenges and difficulties,” Zhang Ying, an official with Tianjin’s disease control center, told state television in a Jan. 10 interview.
On Sunday night, authorities put the 14 million residents of Tianjin under lockdown, only allowing people to leave if absolutely necessary. To exit, citizens have to seek approval from their communities and employers as well as submit a negative nucleic acid test result taken within the past 48 hours and green health codes.
Tianjin has been divided based on three levels of restrictions. In some areas, a full lockdown has been imposed. Other areas allow for one family member to leave home to buy groceries. In the third zone, people are allowed to travel but only within their immediate neighborhoods.
Tianjin citizens with fever are not allowed to leave the city or enter Beijing. Checkpoints have been set up at transportation hubs and highways to monitor and restrict the movement of people. Trains and buses traveling from Tianjin to Beijing have been suspended. The Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention instructed people from Tianjin not to travel to the capital city.
One hundred thousand people from Tianjin who commute to Beijing to work have been asked to work from home. People from Beijing who visited the two Tianjin districts of Nankai and Jinnan since Dec. 23 will be tested for COVID-19 and required to be quarantined.
In a letter to residents on Jan. 10, Tianjin’s government told citizens that the mass testing is being conducted in part to “resolutely prevent the virus spreading to other provinces, regions, and cities, especially Beijing.”
According to Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, it remains unknown as to how long Omicron has been circulating in Tianjin. He believes the variant would already have spilled into other provinces in the country.
“As soon as the source and time of when the virus arrived in China are identified, a larger scale of spillover can be controlled… The virus has four to five dormant days, and the number of confirmed cases will keep climbing in the future… Now it is only three weeks away from China’s Spring Festival. If we can pinpoint the source and take corresponding measures, the outbreak in Tianjin will be extinguished in time,” Yang told the state-backed Global Times.
Two hundred fifty miles away from Tianjin, the city of Anyang, located in Henan province, has also been locked down by authorities due to Omicron. Residents have been instructed not to leave their homes. Mass testing has been launched and non-essential businesses were shut down. As of Dec. 11, the city had reported 84 cases of COVID-19.