China Tries to Contain Omicron Outbreak Ahead of Winter Olympics

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One case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Beijing—a rare breach of the city’s strict containment measures—as Chinese authorities battle outbreaks elsewhere before the February opening of the Winter Olympics in Bejing and the start of the lunar new year. A locally transmitted omicron infection was discovered in Beijing’s Haidaian district Saturday morning, Beijing’s disease prevention and control official Pang Xinghuo said at a news conference. Pang said other occupants in the patient’s residential building and an office building were being tested and that access to 17 locations linked to the patient had been restricted. Officials in the southern city of Zhuhai suspended the city’s bus service after uncovering seven cases of the highly contagious variant and advised residents to stay home. Authorities in China are also trying to contain a series of outbreaks, including from the omicron variant, in the port city of Tianjin, the central city of Anyang and in other smaller cities, keeping millions of people in lockdown across the country. Additionally, China’s National Health Commission spokesman, Mi Feng, warned Saturday that China is facing "severe" challenges before the February 1 beginning of the lunar new year amid the spread of omicron and delta variants.  "The lunar new year travel rush is about to start," Mi noted. "The migration and gathering of people will increase significantly." In the next week or two, Americans will begin receiving free rapid home coronavirus tests from the U.S. government. Residents will have to request the tests on a designated website. The tests have been almost impossible to find in stores.  India’s health ministry on Saturday said it had recorded 268,833 new COVID cases, which is 4,631 more cases than were recorded on Friday.  The Russian government on Friday delayed approving unpopular legislation that would have restricted access to public places without proof of COVID-19 vaccination, amid a surge in new infections. The Associated Press reports the bill would have required Russians seeking to enter certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19 or a medical exemption from immunization. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said the measure was pulled due to uncertainty regarding its effectiveness as it was drawn up in response to the delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The omicron variant is currently driving a surge in new infections in the country.  She said 783 omicron variant cases have been confirmed across Russia. Moscow officials reported 729 confirmed omicron cases in the capital since December 20.  Meanwhile, a French court suspended an outdoor mask requirement in the streets of Paris. The requirement had been imposed December 31 in an effort to suppress the spread of the omicron variant. A court in Versailles on Wednesday suspended a similar outdoor masking requirement for the Yvelines region. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Saturday that 323.7 million COVID cases have been recorded and 5.5 million deaths. The center said 9.6 billion vaccines have been administered. Some information is from Agence France-Presse.  
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