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Cities in China on high COVID-19 alert as peak Chinese New Year travel season starts; Omicron spreads

Cities in China on high COVID-19 alert as peak Chinese New Year travel season starts; Omicron spreads

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks walk on a street, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Shanghai, China January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song

BEIJING: Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Chinese New Year holiday travel season started on Monday (Jan 17), requiring travellers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the Omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.

Authorities have warned the highly contagious Omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Chinese New Year holiday starting on Feb 1.

Cities such as Luoyang in the central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday travellers need to report to communities, employers or hotels their trips three days ahead of arrival.

The southwestern city of Yulin said on Saturday those who want to enter should fill in an online form, including their health credentials and trip details, one day in advance.

Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub each detected one domestically transmitted Omicron case.

The possibility that the Omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can't be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city's disease control authority, said on Monday.

Li Ang, vice director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine Omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they had not been disclosed earlier.

The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one Omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.

So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local Omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travellers arriving from overseas.

China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6 per cent. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighbouring Hebei province starting Feb 4.

Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.

China's aviation regulator said on Monday it would suspend two flights from the United States over COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cancelled flights this year from the country, where Omicron is spreading, to 76.

China reported 223 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the highest number since March 2020.  

This was mainly driven by infections in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where Omicron has been found in local clusters. There were 80 new cases in Tianjin and nine in the key manufacturing hub of Guangdong. 

Sixty of the new cases reported on Monday were imported, as China maintains strict controls over border entry including slashed flight numbers and a "circuit breaker" policy where routes are halted if the number of infections brought in is too high.

Analysts have warned that the ongoing zero-COVID approach - which includes swift and targeted lockdowns and travel restrictions - will increasingly weigh on the economy.

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Source: Agencies/vc

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