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China suspends more flights over COVID-19, Shanghai slows down tours

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SHANGHAI – China on Friday suspended dozens of international flights amid a global spike in Omicron cases, as the city of Shanghai curbed tourist activity as it rushed to avoid local COVID infections -19 while the imported cases increased.

Cities across China are becoming more vigilant against COVID-19 ahead of the Lunar New Year travel season later this month and as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics from February 4, many local governments urging residents not to leave town unnecessarily.

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The Shanghai Tourism and Culture Authority said travel agencies and online tourism businesses must once again stop organizing group tours to and from Shanghai after reporting five new infections on Thursday. transmittable at the national level, all linked to an arrival from abroad.

The ordinance, in line with a national directive to curb tourism activities in provinces where new infections have emerged, came less than a month after Shanghai lifted a suspension that went into effect in November.

China dramatically reduced international arrivals during the pandemic, but the number of infected travelers arriving in Shanghai, a major financial center, in the first 10 days of January, exceeded that of all of December.

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China reported local transmissions of the highly contagious variant of Omicron in the northern city of Tianjin and three other cities, but did not say how many cases of Omicron it has detected in total.

Authorities, however, have warned that Omicron is increasing the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as more people return to China from overseas for the Lunar New Year holiday.

China announced on Friday that 30 inbound international flights from multiple countries have been suspended due to COVID-19 cases, including four more from the United States. So far this year, China has announced the cancellation of 74 flights from the United States.

Athletes and other personnel involved in the Olympics largely arrive on special charter flights and immediately enter a strictly enforced “closed loop” that separates them from the general population.

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Unlike some other Chinese cities, Shanghai has largely refrained from broader restrictions that may disrupt normal routines and has taken a more surgical approach. This week, he only raised the level of “virus risk” for a small bubble tea store where three of the five local infected people worked.

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China reported a total of 143 local confirmed cases and four asymptomatic locally transmitted carriers as of January 13.

Most of the new cases have been detected in central Henan Province, where Omicron and Delta variants are spread, and in Tianjin.

Although the number of cases in China remains tiny compared to outbreaks elsewhere, the country aims to wipe out local clusters as quickly as possible, an approach that has required local governments to quickly isolate those infected as well as their close contacts.

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This week, hundreds of thousands of people have been quarantined at centralized facilities or at homes in the worst-affected cities in China.

On Friday, Yuzhou City in Henan began building another 6,000 makeshift quarantine rooms after its mayor said the more than 1,000 rooms currently available were “still not enough,” according to state media.

Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, is ramping up preparation for 5,000 quarantine rooms it aims to prepare by April, a local official said this week. (Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Ella Cao, David Stanway and Tony Munroe; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Kim Coghill)

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