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  17 Jan 2022, 09:43
Update : 17 Jan 2022, 09:44

China virus cases highest in nearly two years, weeks before Olympics

  BEIJING, Jan 17, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - The number of Covid-19 cases in China

reached the highest since March 2020 on Monday, as Beijing races to stamp out
the highly transmissible coronavirus variant just three weeks before hosting
the Winter Olympics.

   China, where the virus first emerged in late 2019, has stuck to a strict
policy of targeting zero Covid cases even as the rest of the world has re-
opened.

   But its approach has come under sustained pressure in recent weeks with
multiple clusters across the country just as the Games are about to get under
way in Beijing.

   On Monday there were 223 cases more reported in China, including another
80 in the virus-hit port city of Tianjin, and nine more, including Omicron
cases, in the key manufacturing hub of Guangdong.

   Athletes and officials have already started to land in the capital ahead
of the Games, immediately entering a tightly-controlled bubble that separates
them entirely from the rest of the population.

   But after a local Omicron case was detected over the weekend, authorities
have also tightened regulations for those arriving in the capital from
elsewhere in China.

   - Strain on economy -

   The city is now demanding a negative test before travel and a follow-up
test after entering the city, with residents urged not to leave the city for
the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

   The infected woman has not travelled out of the city or had contact with
other infected people, health officials said, as they tested some 13,000
people living or working in the same area.

   Some tourist sites in the capital have also been closed.

   Analysts have warned that the ongoing zero-Covid approach -- which
includes swift and targeted lockdowns and travel restrictions -- will
increasingly weigh on the economy.

   Another 68 cases were reported across central Henan province, where
partial lockdowns and mass testing have been rolled out for millions of
residents.

   Zhuhai, the mainland city bordering the gambling hub of Macau, has told
residents to avoid leaving the city after detecting a handful of Omicron
cases and started testing the whole city from Monday.

   Schools have also been closed.

   Meanwhile in the historic northern city of Xi'an, normally a popular
tourist destination, infections have slowed to single-digit figures after
nearly a month under lockdown.

   Sixty more imported cases were also recorded Monday, as China maintains
strict controls over border entry including slashed flight numbers and a
"circuit breaker" policy where routes are halted if the number of infections
brought in is too high.

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