China Testing Entire City of 14 Million for COVID a Second Time, Suspends Trains, Buses

Tianjin's population of 14 million will have to be tested for COVID-19 for the second time as nearly 100 new cases were reported on Sunday.

The cases were found during initial screenings conducted throughout the Chinese city. A total of 97 cases were recorded, with others anticipated being found in the coming days. Around 12 million tests have already been distributed and 7.8 million of those were returned with samples. All citizens have been ordered to shelter in place as the investigation continues.

The outbreak could pose a major problem for one major event. Tianjin is only an hour from Beijing, where the Winter Olympic Games are still scheduled to begin on February 4. With high-speed railways and buses now suspended, it is unclear whether the outbreak could spread to the host city.

Hong Kong recently closed schools and banned incoming flights from several countries, including the United States, in an effort to prevent the further spread of the Omicron variant. In total, 166 new cases of COVID-19 were found on Tuesday in China, which has 3,476 active cases.

Tianjin Testing
A resident undergoes a nucleic acid test for COVID-19 in Tianjin, China, on January 12, 2022. The city has been shut down after the emergence of nearly 100 new cases. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images

Also in the north, two college students who traveled earlier this month by train from Tianjin tested positive for the virus Wednesday in the city of Dalian, city officials said. There was no word on what variant they had contracted.

The Omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who are vaccinated or were previously infected by other versions of the virus. However, early studies show Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the Delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Authorities also released news of an inspection to Henan last week by Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who called for stepped-up measures to prevent the spread of both the Delta and Omicron variants. COVID-19 has spread to three cities in the province, including Yuzhou, Anyang and the provincial capital Zhengzhou, prompting travel bans and various levels of lockdown.

"It is necessary to do a good job in guaranteeing the living needs of the people in the closed and controlled communities, ensure the basic medical needs of the people during the epidemic period, and ensure that the people's demands can be responded to and resolved in a timely manner," Sun was quoted as saying.

Some Xi'an residents have complained about their inability to obtain food and other daily necessities.

China has sacked or otherwise punished a number of officials for dereliction of duty related to the pandemic response, including failing to prevent new infections. On Wednesday, Anyang authorities cited 61 government departments and 11 officials in violation. Punishments ranged from verbal warnings to dismissal, according to a city government notice.

Ensuring the Olympics are free of any outbreaks is a key concern of the ruling Communist Party. Athletes, officials and journalists are operating in a closed-loop bubble to prevent them from coming into contact with the general public from the time they arrive in Beijing until their departure. If fully vaccinated, they will not have to undergo the standard 21-day quarantine.

In addition, the International Olympic Committee has issued a document advising attendees to avoid crowded places such as bars and restaurants and avoid physical contact with others five days before departing.

Attendees are required to provide two negative PCR tests before they travel and will be tested twice daily while in China.

Participants should "absolutely not let your guard down" even after testing negative, the IOC said.

China has banned fans from outside the country from attending and it appears Beijing plans to distribute only a small number of tickets to carefully selected spectators.

Along with lockdowns, China has used mask mandates and detailed case tracing to restrain major outbreaks.

It has vaccinated nearly 85 percent of its population, according to Our World in Data. The shots have helped reduce the severity of disease, although Chinese vaccines are considered less effective than those used elsewhere.

The country has reported 4,636 deaths among 104,189 total cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tianjin Delivery
A staff member wearing personal protective equipment checks information from a delivery man as he waits to undergo a nucleic acid test for COVID-19 in Tianjin, China, on January 12, 2022. The city detected 97 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, with more expected to emerge. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images