China faces new COVID outbreak as first Omicron case is reported

Outbreak in three Zhejiang cities – Ningbo, Shaoxing and Hangzhou – was developing at a ‘relatively rapid’ speed as 50,000 people are placed under quarantine.

A resident undergoes nucleic acid tests for the Covid-19 coronavirus in China's eastern Zhejiang province last week [China OUT/AFP]

The major Chinese manufacturing province of Zhejiang is fighting its first COVID-19 cluster this year, with tens of thousands of citizens in quarantine and virus-hit areas suspending business operations, cutting flights and cancelling events.

The news comes as health authorities reported the country’s first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the northern port city of Tianjin.

The state-run Tianjin Daily reported on Monday that the Omicron infection was discovered in a traveller who arrived in the city from overseas on December 9, adding that the patient is currently being treated in isolation in hospital.

On Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported an additional 37 locally-transmitted confirmed COVID-19 cases in Zhejiang’s city of Shaoxing, bringing the total number of locally-transmitted confirmed cases in the city to 144.

Earlier, the entire Zhejiang province reported 74 locally transmitted symptomatic cases on December 12 – almost double the previous day’s 38 cases.

The outbreak in three Zhejiang cities – Ningbo, Shaoxing and Hangzhou – was developing at a “relatively rapid” speed, while the situation nationwide was largely stable, National Health Commission official Wu Liangyou said on Saturday.

Health authorities also reported that some of the new cases are said to be from the new Delta strain, “sub-lineage AY.4”, according to Xinhua.

Before the current outbreak, Zhejiang – home to a legion of small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are exporters – reported only one local case in 2021.

More than a dozen Chinese-listed companies said they had suspended production in parts of Zhejiang owing to tightened COVID-19 curbs.

Outbreaks in dozens of Chinese cities this year remained smaller than many overseas, but local governments were told to ensure infections were detected and contained as early as possible to prevent further spreading, triggering curbs that have led to occasional disruption to travel and tourism.

Flights leaving Ningbo Lishe International Airport to Shenzhen city were suspended from Sunday, while flights to Beijing were cancelled from December 6.

Only one daily flight from Hangzhou to China’s capital is allowed.

More than 50,000 people in Zhejiang have been quarantined at centralised facilities and nearly half a million people’s health conditions were monitored, a provincial health official said on Monday. The coastal province has a population of 64.6 million.

Zhejiang has ordered travel agencies to suspend organising tourism trips linking the province and other areas and has also halted province-level sports events.

Wenzhou and Yiwu, two cities in Zhejiang yet to report local cases from the latest outbreak, ordered the closure of entertainment venues such as bars and chess and card parlours.

Apart from the local symptomatic infections in Zhejiang, Shaanxi province and the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia reported one and five local cases respectively on Sunday.

As of December 12, mainland China had 99,780 symptomatic cases, including those arriving from abroad. The death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies