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Health authorities in Tianjin, China’s fourth-largest city, said late on Monday that they had detected the country’s first known case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, as new outbreaks spread across industrial heartlands.
The discovery came as tens of thousands of people in China have remained in lockdown due to Covid-19 outbreaks despite severe restrictions on international travel.
The cities of Hangzhou, Shaoxing, and Ningbo — all in Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai — have this week reported almost 200 new cases combined, prompting authorities to impose restrictions on movement until March 2022.
There were more than 100 infected people in one district alone — Shangyu in Shaoxing — all of whom were traced to a funeral, the state-run Tianjin Daily reported.
Many Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed listed manufacturers have suspended production since the outbreaks, while Ningbo is a big container port, raising the spectre of further global supply chain bottlenecks.
“Except for epidemic prevention and people’s livelihood protection, all other work will be suspended,” Shangyu-based Zhejiang Jingsheng Electromechanical wrote in a filing to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, one of more than a dozen such notices sent to the bourse on Monday.
China’s National Health Commission on Tuesday announced 51 new locally transmitted cases nationwide, 44 of which were in Zhejiang and 38 of those in Shaoxing, a city of 5m people best known for its rice wine.
The case in Tianjin was confirmed after the Municipal Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters performed a whole-genome sequencing analysis that indicated it was the B.1.1.529 strain, known as the Omicron variant. Global Times, a nationalist Communist party tabloid, said the case was a Polish national who arrived in Tianjin from Warsaw.
“Those infected in Tianjin are currently being treated in isolation in designated hospitals,” Tianjin’s local government wrote on its website on Tuesday. “This is the first time an Omicron variant case has been discovered in mainland China.”
In Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, chief executive, said she did not believe the emergence of Omicron in China would change the city’s plans to reopen its border with the mainland.
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