China Tests 2 Million in Beijing, Lifts COVID-19 Lockdown in Xi’an. on

(PEIJING, China) – A cluster of COVID-19 cases in Beijing has prompted authorities to test millions and impose new measures two weeks before the opening of the Winter Olympics, even as the city of Xi’an to the north of central China was lifted on Monday to end a month that had isolated its 13 million residents.

Beijing officials said they would conduct a second round of massive tests on the 2 million residents of the Fengtai district, where the majority of the 40 coronavirus cases since January 15 have been found. That came a day after authorities announced that anyone who has bought or has purchased a fever, cough, or certain other medications in the past two weeks would be required to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours.
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The strict measures, despite a relatively low number of cases, illustrate the acute concern of government officials in the run-up to the Olympic Games, which start on February 4 in Beijing.

“The current epidemic prevention situation is still grim and complicated and all departments in the city need to act proactively and quickly,” Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian said.

“The overall situation is manageable,” he added.

The ruling Communist Party’s COVID-19 policies have entailed drastic efforts to stamp out all signs of new outbreaks — including the lockdown of Xi’an and two other cities last month, and the partial suspension of train and plane routes to Beijing to isolate it from outbreak areas.

Overall, the number of new cases reported in China has fallen from more than 100 a day at the peak of the Xi’an outbreak to 18 on Sunday, six of them in Beijing. Despite the drop, pandemic controls remain tightened ahead of the Games, where all participants will be tested every day and completely isolated from the general public.

Visiting Olympic athletes must be vaccinated or quarantined upon arrival in China.

Ben Cowling, a public health expert at Hong Kong University, said COVID-19 infections could still be leaking out of the Olympic bubble.

“I estimate there is a good chance that at least one lockdown will be implemented in Beijing in the next month,” he said.

In addition to the first round of mass testing in the capital’s Fengtai area, targeted tests were conducted in residential communities in six other districts on Sunday, the Beijing Daily reported. It was not entirely clear who was being tested. The newspaper said in one community, an official said that if a resident had been to a high-risk area in Fengtai or Fangshan, another affected district, the residents of the entire building would have to be tested twice.

The government told people in areas of Beijing that are at high risk of infection not to leave the city. A number of nearby provinces reported cases linked to the outbreaks in the capital, including Shandong and Hebei provinces.

Beijing officials said an Omicron cluster that infected six people had been brought under control. The Fengtai outbreak is caused by the Delta and Chinese health officials claim it is linked to imported frozen foods.

Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control, said the gene sequencing of virus samples from the frozen food was consistent with that of 28 infected people. Foreign experts are skeptical that COVID-19 can easily spread from packaging.

The announcement of the end of the lockdown in Xi’an followed the restart of commercial flights from the city over the weekend. The major tourist hub and former Imperial capital, known as the home of the Terracotta Warrior statue army, struggled to get food for some residents in the early days of the lockdown, after people were locked in their homes.

Access to Xi’an was suspended on December 22 following a Delta outbreak. More than 2,000 people became infected in the city, which is located about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Beijing.

Other outbreaks prompted the government to impose travel bans on a number of cities, including the port of Tianjin, about an hour’s drive from Beijing. The strict regulations are credited with preventing major nationwide outbreaks, and China has reported relatively few cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

More than 3,000 people have arrived for the Games from Jan. 4 to Sunday, including more than 300 athletes and team officials, organizers said Monday. The rest are media and other participants. So far, 78 people have tested positive, including an athlete or team official. China has waived the usual 21-day hotel quarantine for those coming to the Olympics.

The IOC announced some changes to its COVID-19 policy for the Games on Monday, including shortening the period when an infected person is considered close contact from 14 to 7 days.

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Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan contributed.

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