Chinese Megacity Reports Omicron, Prompting Mass Testing And Panic Buying

Residents line up for the coronavirus test during a citywide mass testing in Tianjin, China, on Jan. 9, 2022. (Chinatopix Via AP)
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By Dorothy Li

A northern Chinese port city has begun mass testing and locking down areas where the highly contagious Omicron variant has been reported, prompting residents to stock up on food and supplies.

The megacity of Tianjin has advised residents to not leave town for unnecessary reasons and began testing its 14 million residents on Jan. 9, less than four weeks before the Winter Olympics will open in neighboring Beijing.

At a Jan. 8 press conference, Zhang Ying, deputy director of the Tianjin Health Commission, said the city may face a potential outbreak of the Omicron coronavirus variant, as the virus has been circulated in communities, according to state-run media outlet Xinhua.

Tianjin officials reported that a 10-year-old girl and a 29-year-old woman working at an after-school center became infected with the Omicron variant on Jan. 8.

Late on Jan. 8, health authorities said another 18 people returned positive results in subsequent testing of close contacts. Most of them are students between 8 and 13 years old. There’s no word yet on which variant caused the additional infections.

Given that the Chinese regime is known to grossly underreport its virus numbers, the official figure likely doesn’t reflect the true total.

Omicron, the latest variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, is more infectious than the Delta variant, which has been spreading across parts of China in recent months and prompting harsh lockdown and containment measures under Beijing’s “zero-COVID” policy.

As of the evening of Jan. 8, Tianjin has sent 75,680 people to centralized quarantine. The citywide testing is to be completed over a two-day period. While Tianjin officials haven’t given a full lockdown order thus far, they’ve sealed off 29 residential communities, according to state-run media Global Times.

The swift measures stoked fears that Tianjin could launch a citywide lockdown such as what’s taking place in Xi’an, where authorities have barred its 13 million residents from leaving neighborhoods unless testing negative for the virus, leaving many suffering from food shortages.

A Tianjin resident who gave the surname as Lin told The Epoch Times that panic buying caused a traffic jam in his area on Jan. 9.

“People are crazy!” Lin said. “I saw they got six or seven cabbages; some bought up to a dozen.”

Footage in social media posts show scenes of panic buying, such as people jostling at a grocery market to get vegetables.

A man using the surname Li who resides in the Nankai District of Tianjin told The Epoch Times that he isn’t anxious to buy excess food, as he has stored rice and other food at his home.

“But I saw many were stocking up on food … and some [vegetables] were already out of stock,” Li said.

Workers use zip ties to lock up a fence to help create a “bubble” surrounding the Beijing Olympic Park on Jan. 4, 2022. (NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The new COVID-19 infections pose a risk to the Winter Olympics, which open on Feb. 4 in nearby Beijing. The capital city is about 70 miles northwest of Tianjin, and many people regularly travel by car or on a high-speed rail link that shortens the trip between the two cities to less than one hour.

Beijing health authorities have barred people in Tianjin from traveling to Beijing unless necessary, according to a Jan. 9 notice posted on social media platform WeChat. Officials say that they’ve tightened inspections at highway exits to dissuade those who intend to enter Beijing from Tianjin, according to Beijing News, a Party-backed media outlet.

Tianjin has already closed some subway stations on two lines and canceled some domestic flights.

On social media platform Weibo, some college students in Tianjin are concerned that the travel restrictions would prevent them from going home for the Chinese New Year holiday, in roughly three weeks.

Luo Ya and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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