Beijing announces first vaccine mandate as Omicron clusters break out in China

Updated on Jul 06, 2022 07:19 PM IST
The mandatory vaccine requirement was announced as China begins to fight against the highly transmissible Omicron BA5 variant, discovered in Beijing and Xian
Residents line up for Covid-19 testing in Shanghai, on Wednesday. Residents of parts of Shanghai and Beijing have been ordered to undergo further rounds of testing following the discovery of new cases in the two cities. (AP)
Residents line up for Covid-19 testing in Shanghai, on Wednesday. Residents of parts of Shanghai and Beijing have been ordered to undergo further rounds of testing following the discovery of new cases in the two cities. (AP)

BEIJING: China’s capital Beijing will introduce a vaccine mandate for certain public venues from July 11, the first in the country, as millions in China face new curbs and the country tackles fresh Covid-19 clusters including a karaoke lounge-related outbreak in Shanghai and a spreading one in the tourist city of Xian.

Beijing’s health commission announced on Wednesday that from next Monday anyone entering public venues such as libraries, museums, cinemas, art galleries, sports and fitness venues, entertainment venues or any crowded places in the capital “must be vaccinated”. Restaurants and public transport are exempt.

Elderly people will also have to show proof of vaccination to enter community facilities such as game rooms, Li Ang, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said on Wednesday.

Those who have health problems and cannot be vaccinated are exempt from the mandate.

Omicron BA5 variant

The mandatory requirement was announced as China begins to fight against the highly transmissible Omicron BA5 variant, discovered in Beijing and Xian.

The new requirement is an addition to the existing one for Beijing residents - they need to get tested every three days and show a negative result to enter most public venues.

The compulsory vaccination mandate is a major change in policy as until recently authorities, as well as state-controlled media, had said restrictions will not be imposed on those who decide not to get vaccinated.

One reason for the change could be the fast-spreading Omicron-led outbreaks.

Cases caused by Omicron’s BA5 subvariant have been discovered in Beijing - three cases - and in northwest China’s Shaanxi province, leading to strengthened anti-pandemic measures, state media reported late on Wednesday evening.

Zero-Covid policy

The new vaccine mandate in Beijing and new outbreaks have put under renewed spotlight, and pressure, China’s zero-Covid policy which has led to costly lockdowns, most recently in the country’s most populous city, Shanghai.

The Chinese mainland reported 112 locally-transmitted Covid-19 cases, 81 of which were in eastern China’s Anhui province, the national health commission (NHC) said on Wednesday.

A total of 241 local asymptomatic carriers were also identified in nine provincial-level regions, including 141 in Anhui and 61 in Jiangsu, China’s official news agency, Xinhua reported.

Though the numbers are low by international standards, they are bound to trigger unease among Chinese citizens - especially among the millions who have been through crippling lockdowns.

Shanghai, which only emerged from a scarring lockdown in June, is now facing renewed restrictions and testing in some areas after an outbreak linked to a karaoke bar, reopened without authorisation, was discovered.

Shanghai on Wednesday reported two new local Covid-19 cases at the community level with four high-risk and 22 medium-risk regions demarcated.

The city “…launched an urgent mass nucleic acid testing in several districts after some residents were found linked to a high-risk commercial complex,” the state-run tabloid, Global Times reported on Wednesday.

“China still faces major risks in epidemic prevention and control as the pandemic still rebounds. There can be no slackening and we should pay more focus on the newly emerged cases,” Zhao Dandan, a deputy director of Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, was quoted as saying by the tabloid at a briefing on Wednesday.

Curbs and repeated tests

Some 13 million residents of Xian, in northwest China’s Shaanxi province, are facing week-long curbs and repeated nucleic acid tests following a new Covid-19 outbreak caused by the Omicron BA5 subvariant.

Meanwhile, China’s special administrative region, Macau, a former Portuguese colony, has locked down its largest hotel, Grand Lisboa, with 500 people inside as authorities scramble to contain the city’s worst outbreak, which has logged more than 1000 cases since June.

“More than 14,000 people are in quarantine as the city battles to contain its biggest outbreak since the pandemic began. Macau had largely been Covid-free since an outbreak in October 2021,” a Reuters report said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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