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

BEIJING (AFP) – The number of COVID-19 cases in China reached its highest level since March 2020 yesterday, as Beijing races to smother outbreaks just three weeks before hosting the Winter Olympics.

China, where the virus first emerged in late 2019, has stuck to a strict policy of targetting 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.

Yesterday there were 223 more cases reported in China, including another 80 in the virus-hit port city of Tianjin, and nine more – including cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant – in the southern 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 separating them from the rest of the population.

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

Some tourist sites in the capital have also been closed.

The infected woman in Beijing had not travelled or had contact with infected people, authorities said, as they tested some 13,000 people living or working in the same area.

A man gets a COVID-19 swab test in Beijing. PHOTO: AP

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