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China reports new Omicron variant: Beijing makes vaccine proof mandatory for public

China on Wednesday reported cases of an Omicron sub-variant surfacing in Beijing and Shaanxi province as the Chinese capital announced new measures, making it mandatory to show proof of vaccination for people entering public places.

Omicron sub-variant BA.5.2 was discovered in Beijing and northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, leading to strengthened anti-epidemic measures in those areas, state-run Global Times reported. The new variants emerged as China was looking to relax its stringent dynamic zero COVID policy by reducing quarantine time and allowing more international air travel.

As the current dominant variant in the US and Europe, the sub-variant has triggered concern among Chinese people, with experts and officials stressing that the key is to “cope with fast transmission by fast reaction”, the report said. Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi, launched temporary seven-day epidemic prevention control measures in some public places on Wednesday after the city reported 29 infections in the previous four days.

Beijing is currently enforcing alternate testing of its 21 million population. All people wanting to enter public places like museums, theatres, stadiums and gyms in Beijing will need to show proof of vaccination, Li Ang, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, told reporters.

The development comes as the Chinese capital is facing a new outbreak caused by highly transmissible strain that will again test the zero-tolerance strategy. Elderly people will also have to show proof of vaccination to enter community facilities such as game rooms, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

Previously, people at high risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 and anyone entering an aged care home had to be fully vaccinated. The vaccine mandate is in addition to a requirement for Beijing residents to get tested every three days and show a negative result to enter public venues.

Beijing is also bracing to hold the 20th Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) dates for which is yet to be announced. The conference was widely expected to endorse a rare third five-year term for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Ma Chaofeng, a health official in Xi’an, told the media that the cases reported recently were caused by the BA.5.2 sub-variant and were linked to a renewable resources market. On Wednesday, Beijing authorities also confirmed that they had discovered three infections caused by the BA.5.2 sub-variant, the Global Times report said.

Pang Xinghuo, a Beijing health official said that the latest cases were allegedly caused by imported virus and the current situation is still under control.

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