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A case of Omicron detected in Beijing, three weeks before the Olympics

A case of Omicron has been detected in Beijing, authorities in the Chinese capital announced on Saturday, where the Winter Olympics are to open on February 4, as the country battles several outbreaks of the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.

This announcement comes after Zhuhai, a coastal city of 2.4 million inhabitants in the south-east of the country, near Macao, imposed travel restrictions, following the discovery of seven cases of contamination by the Omicron variant.

Millions of Chinese have been ordered to stay home in recent weeks, dozens of domestic flights have been canceled and entire factories closed as authorities seek to stem the outbreak ahead of the Olympics.

A case of local transmission of Omicron has been discovered in the Chinese capital’s Haidian district, where many tech company headquarters are located, city official Pang Xinghuo told a news conference, which is a rare breach in Beijing’s very strict defenses against Covid-19.

Authorities are testing other occupants of the residential complex and office building, and have restricted access to 17 places linked to the infected person, Pang said.

Beijing has long been closed to people from parts of the country where cases have been reported and is asking all arrivals to provide recent Covid-19 tests.

In recent weeks, its residents have also been told not to leave the city for the upcoming Spring Festival holiday.

In Zhuhai, where seven cases of Omicron have been detected, authorities asked residents to avoid leaving the city “unless necessary”, with those affected having to present a negative test within 24 hours.

Hair salons, game rooms, gyms and other cinemas have had to close since Thursday and bus lines have been suspended in parts of the city.

China, with its zero-tolerance policy that sees neighborhoods or even entire cities locked down as soon as a few cases appear, has so far managed to maintain a very low rate of infection.

Strict lockdowns have been imposed in smaller cities, where millions are being told to stay home and be tested, while economic hubs like Shanghai and Beijing are testing specific neighborhoods as part of efforts more targeted.

But the appearance of the highly contagious Omicron undermines this policy. It was first detected at the port of Tianjin, relatively close to Beijing, before hitting Anyang, a city in the center of the country.

The authorities have called on the regions not yet affected to “not relax” their vigilance and to “strengthen controls”.

According to official figures, the country recorded 104 new Covid cases on Saturday.