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Chinese state media report parcels mailed from overseas may have spread the omicron variant of the coronavirus in Beijing and elsewhere.
Globally, health experts have stressed the virus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets when infected people breathe, speak, cough and sneeze. However, China has repeatedly emphasized the danger of infection from packaging, despite only trace amounts of the virus being found on such items, and it has boosted testing of frozen food and regular items shipped from overseas.
The Communist Party newspaper Global Times cited the Beijing Center for Disease Control and virologists as making the link between the latest infections and packages from abroad. The report Tuesday said investigators found people newly infected had picked up packages mailed from Canada and the U.S.
China has locked down parts of Beijing’s Haidian district following the detection of three cases, just weeks before the Chinese capital is due to host the Winter Olympic Games. Another person in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen who tested positive for omicron had handled packages sent from North America.
China remains on high alert for new outbreaks ahead of the Olympics. Around 20 million people are under lockdown and mass testing has been ordered in neighborhoods and entire cities where cases have been discovered.
The Beijing Games organizers announced Monday that only “selected” spectators will be permitted at the events that officially open Feb. 4. Beijing had already announced that no fans from outside the country would be permitted and had not offered tickets to the general public.
China has largely avoided major virus outbreaks with a regimen of lockdowns, mass testing for COVID-19 and travel restrictions, although it continues to fight surges in several cities, including the port of Tianjin, about an hour from Beijing.
Despite China's “zero-COVID" policy, one city that has endured weeks of lockdown appeared to find some relief. Falling numbers of cases in Xi'an, a city of 13 million famed as the home of the Terracotta Warrior statue army, have prompted authorities to allow people to gradually leave their homes and return to work.
Just one additional case was reported in the city among China's total of 127 new domestically transmitted cases announced on Tuesday.