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Residents of Anyang queuing to receive a Covid test yesterday. Alamy Stock Photo

Millions more locked down as China battles Omicron spread

In England, people who test positive on an antigen test will no longer need to take a PCR test to confirm their result.

LAST UPDATE | 11 Jan 2022

FIVE MILLION RESIDENTS of a central Chinese city have been confined to their homes while another megacity shuttered all non-essential businesses, as the country battles a spate of coronavirus outbreaks including from the Omicron variant.

Beijing is on high alert as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics next month, sticking to a zero-Covid strategy of targeted lockdowns, border restrictions and lengthy quarantines.

While those measures have kept the number of new cases far lower than virus hotspots in the United States and Europe, China is currently facing local flare-ups in multiple cities.

Fast-spreading Omicron presents a fresh challenge, with two cases in Anyang – the newly locked-down city in Henan province – linked to a growing infection cluster in the northern metropolis of Tianjin, some 400 kilometres away.

Authorities in Anyang announced the lockdown last night, issuing a notice ordering residents not to leave their homes or drive cars on the roads, state news agency Xinhua reported.

All non-essential businesses have been closed and a mass-testing drive has been launched “to respond to the severe epidemic control situation and strictly prevent the spread of the Omicron virus outbreak”, Xinhua reported.

There were 58 new local infections reported in Anyang, state broadcaster CCTV said today, bringing the city’s total caseload to 84 since Saturday.

The city had already restricted outbound travel, which local officials said was to “ensure that the outbreak does not spill over into outside areas”.

At least three cities in Henan are battling emerging outbreaks, with provincial capital Zhengzhou’s 13 million inhabitants inching closer to a full lockdown.

Under current rules, schools and kindergartens have been closed along with all non-essential businesses.

Last week, one million people in the city of Yuzhou were put under stay-at-home orders.

Hong Kong, Shenzhen

Tianjin – a major port city just 150 kilometres from Beijing – has barred people from leaving without official permission, ordered the testing of all 14 million residents, and cancelled trains into the capital.

Tianjin, which is adjacent to Winter Olympics venues in Beijing and Hebei province, confirmed another 10 new locally transmitted cases after citywide mass testing.

Zhang Boli, of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told local television that the Tianjin cluster is the first time Omicron has been detected spreading within China.

The northern city of Xi’an is in its third week of lockdown as it attempts to stamp out a 2,000-case outbreak.

There are also flare-ups in southern China.

England’s antigen tests

Elsewhere, people in England who produce a positive antigen test will, from today, no longer need to take a PCR test to confirm their result.

The move, previously announced last week by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), is taking place to free up capacity in laboratories for PCR tests for those who have Covid-19 symptoms.

People who receive a positive result on an antigen test will be required to self-isolate immediately, without requiring PCR confirmation.

The UKHSA said it is a temporary measure while Covid-19 rates remain high across the UK.

UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “This is a tried and tested approach. With Covid cases high, we can confidently say lateral flow tests can be used to indicate Covid-19 without the need for PCR confirmation.

“If you test positive on an LFD, you should self-isolate immediately and register your result to allow contact tracing to take place.

“It also remains really important that anyone experiencing Covid-19 symptoms self-isolates and takes a PCR test via, or by phoning 119.

“I’m really grateful to the public and all of our critical workers who continue to test regularly and self-isolate when necessary, along with other practical and important behaviours to limit transmission of the virus, as this is the most effective way of stopping the spread of infection and keeping our friends, families and communities safe.”

Exceptions to the new rules include people who want to claim the Test and Trace Support Payment, those who are taking antigen tests as part of research and those who have a positive day 2 test result after they arrive in England.

© AFP 2022 with reporting by Press Association

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