Health authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin were able to identify and isolate the carrier of the variant — a traveler who arrived from overseas on December 9, before it entered into the community, state media reported Monday.
The infected individual was initially identified as an asymptomatic carrier. Subsequent genome sequencing reviewed by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it was the Omicron variant, according to state media.
The individual is now being treated in isolation in hospital, the report said, without providing further details.
The fast-spreading Omicron variant has raised alarms around the world, prompting governments to impose travel restrictions. It has been reported in more than 50 countries since first detected in South Africa late last month.
Much remains unknown about the variant, which carries an unusually large number of mutations that scientists worry could potentially make it more transmissible and less susceptible to existing vaccines.
In China, all overseas arrivals must be tested for Covid before they leave the airport, followed by at least two weeks of centralized quarantine. This is often followed by another lengthy period of home isolation.
The newly identified infected traveler had been in the “closed-loop management” for overseas arrivals upon entering China, according to state media — meaning they had not directly exposed local residents to the variant.
But China’s ambitious zero-tolerance strategy — composed of mass testing, snap lockdowns and extensive quarantines — also comes with great economic costs, as well as no shortage of disruption to daily life.
As the Winter Olympics approaches, authorities are resorting to ever more stringent measures to curb local outbreaks, which have continued to flare up with increasing frequency. The country has now reported locally transmitted cases everyday for the past eight weeks.
On Tuesday, eastern Zhejiang province, home to the country’s key manufacturing and export hubs, reported 44 new cases, bringing the total caseload over the past week to above 200.
Authorities in virus-hit areas swiftly quarantined tens of thousands of residents, suspended businesses, events and tour groups, and canceled flights, ferries and bus services.
The travel restrictions in medium- and high-risk areas will be in place until March 15 next year — well after the Winter Olympics is over, and around the time the country’s annual legislative meetings are completed in Beijing.
Keeping infections away from the Chinese capital is a top priority for the government, as the city gears up for the Games in February. All flights from the city of Ningbo, a major industrial hub, to Beijing have been canceled, while only one daily flight from Hangzhou, the provincial capital, to Beijing is allowed.
In other parts of the country, infections are also being reported. In the north, Inner Mongolia reported 5 symptomatic cases and 4 asymptomatic infections, while the provinces of Heilongjiang and Shaanxi each reported one confirmed case, according to the National Health Commission.
In the southern province of Guangdong, two people in the manufacturing hub of Dongguan were tested positive Monday, prompting a local lockdown.