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20mn on lockdown after Omicron alert

A Covid outbreak has seen a third city in China placed into lockdown, bringing the total number of residents confined to their homes nationwide to around 20 million.

The authorities in the city of Anyang prohibited its population of nearly 5.2 million from venturing outside. Most stores apart from those selling essential goods have been closed, and all private vehicles have been banned from the roads.

The restrictions announced on Monday evening will remain in place while mass testing is being carried out, though officials did not set a cutoff date.

The lockdown in Anyang followed the discovery of two Omicron cases over the weekend, which are presumably linked to a separate outbreak in the city of Tianjin around 400km (250 miles) away. It is worth noting that until recently, confirmed cases of Omicron transmission in China had been confined to people returning from abroad and their immediate contacts.

According to reports, out of all 87 Covid cases in Henan province, 58 have been detected in Anyang.

The city lies in close proximity to 2022 Winter Olympics venues in Beijing and Hebei province, with the games set to kick off on February 4. The Chinese authorities are counting on a ‘closed loop’ system for athletes, employees, and attendees, which is supposed to minimize contact with the outside world.

Apart from Anyang, around 13 million people have been confined to their homes in Xi’an for more than two weeks, and another 1.1 million in Yuzhou. According to reports, both cities are grappling with the Delta strain, with no known cases of Omicron in either one so far. In Xi’an, at least 2,000 people have tested positive.

Cities such as Zhengzhou, Shenzhen, and Tianjin have stopped short of imposing stay-at-home orders for the time being, opting instead to shut down schools and kindergartens, place curbs on long distance travel, and implement partial lockdowns affecting certain districts and housing compounds. On top of that, massive testing campaigns have been rolled out across China in recent weeks.

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