Chinese authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin said they had detected the mainland’s first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, putting what China has called its “zero tolerance” Covid-19 strategy to a further test.
The infection was discovered in a traveler who arrived in the city from overseas on Thursday, the Tianjin city government said in a statement on its verified social-media account. It was confirmed as a case of the Omicron variant after the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the results of genome sequencing.
The patient is being treated in isolation in a hospital, the statement said. It didn’t give further details.
One of the earliest cases of Omicron outside South Africa was detected in Hong Kong last month, in a 36-year-old man who was staying in a designated quarantine hotel in the city after arriving from South Africa. The University of Hong Kong has since delivered a strain it isolated to the China CDC to help speed up research and vaccine development, state media reported.
Since closing off the city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak, in January of 2020, China has continued to use lockdowns along with mass testing and mandatory quarantine to battle the virus anywhere it might pop up.
Early data already suggest that the Omicron variant may be better at evading vaccine-generated antibodies, and a lot of that has to do with what’s happening at a molecular level. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains.
By official numbers, China has reported a low toll from Covid-19 compared with other nations, though the Delta variant put it through one of its biggest outbreaks, with cases reaching close to 100 a day in November. The number of new infections reported has since waned. China’s National Health Commission reported 80 locally transmitted cases for Sunday, with most of the cases in eastern Zhejiang province.
Liang Wannian, an official with the National Health Commission, acknowledged in a briefing over the weekend that it is extremely difficult for China to have zero Covid-19 cases but said he is confident that whenever there are outbreaks the authorities will keep them under control.
“A dynamic zero-tolerance strategy aims not at ‘zero infections,’ but seeks to put out the outbreak as soon as possible,” Mr. Liang said.
Vaccine and medicine producers and research institutes in China are racing to study the Omicron variant. Nearly 78% of the Chinese population was fully vaccinated as of late last month, according to government data, though Chinese health experts have so far said little about how well China’s vaccines work against the Delta variant.
Initial clinical trials for Chinese vaccines showed their efficacy levels to be generally lower than mRNA vaccines such as those developed by
The government is now pushing for booster shots and has approved clinical trials of a domestically developed mRNA vaccine.
Until mRNA-based vaccines are available in the country, China is in a tricky position, said
a healthcare strategist for investment-research firm
“What’s the next step? For people who have been vaccinated, waiting for an mRNA mix-match booster?” Ms. Andersen said.
Authorities have called on residents to avoid traveling to port cities and stay put during the holiday season. Millions are expected to travel in the weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts Feb. 1.
The organizing committee for the Beijing Winter Olympics has also said it is paying close attention to Omicron ahead of the Games, which are scheduled to start Feb. 4.
The topic of Tianjin detecting the mainland’s first Omicron case garnered more than 200 million views on Chinese social-media platform Weibo platform on Monday.
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