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China Restricts Access to City Near Beijing Due to COVID-19 Concerns


People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus look at a display of the Winter Paralympic mascots. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
China Restricts Access to City Near Beijing Due to COVID-19 Concerns
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China announced new COVID-19 restrictions in a large city near Beijing just weeks before the Winter Olympics are set to begin.

Tianjin is about 140 kilometers from Beijing. About 14 million people live there. On Thursday, the Chinese government closed large roads and canceled train and bus trips from Tianjin to other cities because of a rise in COVID-19 cases. Anyone leaving the city had to show a negative virus test and have a good reason for leaving.

Tianjin is one of six Chinese cities under restrictions. Observers are concerned because it is so close to Beijing, the host city of the 2022 Winter Olympics. The games begin on February 4.

About 20 million people in China are living under COVID-19 restrictions. Some people are not permitted to leave home.

During the two years of the pandemic, China has acted quickly to put restrictions in place in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.

China is still working to control the virus with a “zero- tolerance” policy. Other nations are moving toward trying to live with the virus. This is especially true as the Omicron variant seems to spread much more easily than earlier versions of the virus.

Dali Yang is a Chinese politics expert at the University of Chicago in Illinois. He said China is at an important point in the pandemic. He said he wonders whether the country can prevent the spread of Omicron.

More than 85 percent of China’s population is vaccinated against COVID-19.

On Thursday, China reported there were 124 new cases of COVID, including 41 in Tianjin. China says 4,636 of its citizens have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. Many other countries have reported hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Observers are worried that the upcoming Olympics may create a virus surge in China. Something similar happened in Japan during the summer Olympics.

Kenji Shibuya is a public health expert and a researcher at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research. He said the Delta variant spread in Tokyo over the summer. But restrictions helped stop a wider spread.

The rules will be even more strict in China during its Olympics.

China is creating a “bubble” that is meant to prevent contact between the outside world and athletes, media members, workers and other visitors. Anyone who leaves the contained area will be required to stay away from others for three weeks.

Kei Saito studies viruses at the University of Tokyo. He said the special rules during the Olympics should protect people within the bubble. However, he is not sure China will be able to control the spread of Omicron. “It’s almost impossible,” he said.

China continues its restrictions around the country. Large numbers of residents in Tianjin on Wednesday got their second COVID-19 test. They are asked to wait at home until they get a negative result. Traffic coming into the city is limited to trucks delivering food or medical supplies.

Even with the restrictions, Yu Xuan, a university worker, said “everything is fine.” Yu said food stores and restaurants are still open as usual.

But in another city, Xi’an, some people say restrictions there have made it difficult to get food.

People who are involved in putting on the Olympics still plan to go ahead with the games.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Olympic area last week. “The world is turning its eyes to China,” Xi said, “and China is ready.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.

Do you think the Omicron variant will spread in China during or after the Olympics? Write to us in the Comments Section and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

negative adj. not showing the presence of a particular germ, condition, or substance

zero tolerance – n. a policy of giving the most severe punishment possible to every person who commits a crime or breaks a rule

variant n. different in some way from others of the same kind

surge v. to suddenly increase to an unusually high level

bubble n. a group of people who stay together to prevent the spread of a germ or virus

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