UPDATED: Beijing’s local COVID cases rise before Olympics; more areas find Omicron

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BEIJING, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Beijing reported 14 local confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest daily count in its current outbreak, less than two weeks before the Winter Olympics are set to start in the Chinese capital and the neighbouring province of Hebei.

Although the numbers for Beijing’s outbreak since Jan. 15 are lower than elsewhere in the world, the city has ordered targeted lockdowns for tens of thousands of people and tested a few million residents to block infection.

The restrictions, in line with a national effort to curb virus flare-ups as soon as possible, take on extra urgency as China has vowed to safely host the Winter Games and prevent major outbreaks during the Lunar New Year travel season.

Tuesday’s 14 cases with confirmed symptoms in Beijing account for more than half of the 24 infections nationwide, data from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed.

The capital has found a total of 55 local cases with symptoms since Jan. 15, the data shows. Beijing officials have blamed the Delta variant for most cases in the current outbreak, with a handful attributed to the highly transmissible Omicron.

In addition to Beijing, the provinces of Heilongjiang, Hebei, Liaoning, Henan and Guangdong as well as the northwestern region of Xinjiang all reported sporadic local cases with confirmed symptoms for Tuesday, NHC data showed.

The eastern city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province found one person infected with Omicron, state television said on Wednesday. His travel history showed he had not left the city since Jan. 14.

In Horgos, a city in Xinjiang, two asymptomatic infected people were found to have caught the Omicron variant, state television said on Tuesday. The source of the virus was unclear as the two had not left the city in two weeks.

At least seven provinces, regions and municipalities in China have found locally transmitted Omicron infections, while the total number of cases is unknown.

With no new deaths on Tuesday, China’s death toll in the pandemic stayed at 4,636.

By Jan. 25, mainland China had a total of 105,749 cases with confirmed symptoms, including both locals and arrivals from abroad.

(Reporting by Roxanne liu, Ryan Woo, Gabriel Crossley and Liangping Gao; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Clarence Fernandez)

Photo – A man wearing face mask walks pass the Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Mascot and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games Mascot, in Beijing, China. EPA-EFE/WU HONG

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