Beijing reports Covid-19 cases in- and outside the Olympic bubble; Hangzhou and port cities also hit

A few days before the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, a number of athletes have tested positive for Covid-19, raising doubts about their participation in the competition. The Games begin on February 4. All athletes will be tested daily. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to attend the opening ceremony and to host a banquet for 32 heads of state or government, international organizations and royal family members, including President Vladimir Putin of Russia, King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Several communities in Beijing were locked down after a few Covid cases were identified and residents will have to take daily tests. Beijing has limited the movement of people in more parts of the city to lower virus risks ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics. In Fengtai district, residents in more areas are required not to leave their residential compounds for unnecessary reasons and to take a daily Covid test. The district, which has reported more local virus cases than others in the current outbreak in Beijing, had already locked down some compounds that house tens of thousands of people. Several other city districts have imposed mobility restrictions in certain areas.

The health code system of Beijing experienced a temporary technical failure for about an hour on January 26, leaving Beijing residents unable to check their nucleic acid testing results. As one case in Beijing was suspected of having been infected by handling mail from abroad, He Qinghua, an official at the National Health Commission (NHC), said experts have insufficient evidence so far to prove that non-frozen imported goods could transmit Covid-19 to people in China. “Humans contracting the virus via tainted goods is not the main spreading channel, but we cannot rule out such a possibility,” He said.

A flare-up in Zhejiang province, which has registered 14 local confirmed cases in two days, is an independent outbreak caused by the Omicron variant, health authorities said. The city of Hangzhou has become the latest hit by a Covid-19 outbreak as cases in other mainland centers abate. The city in Zhejiang province recorded a total 30 positive cases by noon on February 26, mostly mild cases. The first case was a worker at Welbilt (China), an international supplier of kitchen equipment. The authorities said that the strain was different from previous local or imported Omicron cases and categorized it as a new outbreak. They said four Omicron positive samples were found in unopened imported Welbilt goods. Half of the 30 infected patients were employees of Welbilt, which has 240 staff. Some other positive cases came from restaurants and shops near the company. Five infected employees had attended an annual company event or a wedding banquet. The Hangzhou outbreak has spilled over to Anshun in Guizhou; Shangrao in Jiangxi; and Luotian and Huanggang in Hubei. Separately, Shanghai reported one new locally transmitted case, the wife of an employee at Pudong international airport who was confirmed as a new locally transmitted case with the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Some of China's port cities, which have been at the frontline in fending off the risks of imported Covid-19 cases over the past two years, were again caught in a resurgence of coronavirus cases in recent days. After Khorgas in Xinjiang reported some new cases, Suifenhe, a port city on the China-Russia border in Heilongjiang province, reported new cases linked to imported grain. The outbreak spilled over into Dongning, a city about 50 kilometers from Suifenhe, when a truck driver for a trading company who just returned from Suifenhe turned out to be infected. Both cities in Heilongjiang are major land ports and they have been conducting routine full-scale nucleic acid tests every five days. The sources of these port-related outbreaks are most likely goods from overseas, because it is impossible to ensure 100% disinfection of goods.

Shanghai’s first mass produced Covid-19 vaccine – Convidecia – hit the market from a newly launched vaccine gigafactory, covering more than 30,000 square meters in suburban Baoshan district. The single-dose vaccine from CanSino Biologics is the only one-shot Covid-19 vaccine among the seven authorized for use in China. The factory, jointly set up by Shanghai Pharmaceuticals and CanSino Bio, can produce 200 million shots annually. The vaccine was jointly developed by Tianjin-based CanSino and a team led by General Chen Wei from the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences.

The Shanghai municipal government has announced that foreigners over the age of 18 and people from Hong Kong and Macao in Shanghai can now register for Covid-19 booster shots. Foreign minors and children from Hong Kong and Macao between the ages of 3 and 11 will also be able to receive their first vaccination. Reservations can be made through Jiankangyun, Shanghai's health app. The price of the booster shot is CNY100 for expats who do not have medical insurance in China and free for Hong Kong and Macao residents.

This overview is based on reports by the China Daily, Global Times and South China Morning Post.