Mass tests, supermarket lines: Locals in Tianjin, China face the arrival of Omicron

Following an increasing number of cases of the Omicron variant in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin, nearly 14 million residents have been tested at least twice and roads in and out of the city have been strictly controlled. Two locals in Tianjin told the JowharObservers team about their return to the Covid-19 era after more than a year of “normal” life.

Authorities discovered a new epidemic linked to the Omicron variant on January 8, 2022 in Tianjin. The city has now become the new front line for China’s “Zero Covid” policy. The policy has been strictly enforced, especially as the city is only thirty minutes away by train from Beijing, where the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in less than three weeks.

In addition to controlling people from leaving the city, authorities urged Tianjin’s 13.9 million residents to be tested twice, on January 10 and 12.

On Chinese social networks, locals shared photos and videos of the huge queues generated by the massive test campaign.

Stephanie Yamaniski is a Brazilian woman who has lived in Tianjin with her husband since May 2021. She has documented her daily life during the return of Covid-19 on her Instagram page, where she has more than 50,000 followers.

“I feel much safer being here than in my home country” Yamaniski shared his experience with the JowharObservers team.

When the pandemic started we lived in Hong Kong, and when we came to China everything was controlled, no new cases in months, people did not have to wear masks on the streets … So now is the first time I experience all the Covid measures to control the spread . This is completely new to me, so this is why I share the whole process.

Authorities set up 279 PCR test sites throughout Tianjin. On the evening of 13 January, a total of 164 positive cases had been registered in this new outbreak. Those who tested negative received a “green health pass” which was valid for 48 hours, which gave them the opportunity to take transport and leave the city.

However, travel between Tianjin and Beijing, which will host the Olympic Games starting on February 4, has almost stopped. Most stations in Tianjin have canceled ticket sales to the capital and people traveling daily between Tianjin and Beijing have been asked to stay at home. The trips are expected to resume under stricter supervision than for other destinations.

In principle, there will be no strict lockdown in the city. The authorities put schools, colleges and universities on early holiday starting on 11 January. Yamaniski explained:

Schools are closed because the focus of this last wave was a child care center, so Tianjin canceled all classes.

Restaurants, shopping and companies can still work, if all staff have been tested and show a negative result, but the government has recommended people to work from home until further notice.

It’s safe here and there’s no risk now. From both waves of mass testing, they identified only about 100 cases out of 14 million people!

I feel much safer being here than in my home country, where most of the population has received Covid. [Editor’s note: As of January 17, 2022, Brazil has officially registered 23 million total cases, out of a population of 212 million, so more than 10 percent of the population may have contracted the virus].

Chinese social networks have also been filled with “positive” images around the rally phrase “Tianjin Jiayou”, or “Tianjin courage”, as in this video of a teenager playing the cello in the queue at a test site on January 12.

SUBHEADYamaniski said she experienced a China where Covid-19 seemed like a distant memory – because all local transmission of the virus has been met with strict policies.

Authorities have rapidly deployed large-scale systems to detect cases and limit transmissions. They begin by tracing the near circle of the first case detected, and extend to the entire population depending on the number of positive cases.

This could result in a strict closure of the city where a positive case was registered, cutting it off from the rest of China. This was the case for Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic, or Xi’an, where 13 million people have been locked up since December 22, 2021, after about 100 positive cases were registered in less than two weeks.

Residents of Xi’an have not been able to leave their homes, to the extent that many of them have reportedly suffered from food shortages.

Today’s food purchases are crowded in Tianjin – some called it a “panic purchase”, others said people only did what they should do after facing a deadlock and seeing what happened in Xi’an.

– Manya Koetse (@manyapan) January 9, 2022 At the moment, this is not the place in Tianjin, but some residents have turned to “panic buying” after the announcement of the first cases and test campaigns.

Several videos that have been circulating since January 9 show supermarkets stormed by residents.

One of them shows people fighting over cabbage, while others show empty shelves and long queues outside. Some people online have also said that prices have increased.

These videos have caused concern online and prompted some residents of Tianjin to post pictures of their own supermarkets to reassure others that there are places without shortage or panic.

“People argued about cabbage because you can store it for a long time” Nini Wang (not his real name) is an artist living in Tianjin. He filmed a scene at a market in eastern Tianjin on January 9. The video shows hallways full of people and a long queue at the entrance. He told us that prices rose that day as early as noon. 09.00, when the last cabbages were taken by shoppers.

People fought over cabbage because you can store it for a long time. So if the city or neighborhood is quarantined, you can eat cabbage for a while. The same goes for potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions.

Wang has since published a video of another market in Tianjin, this more calm.

Stocks are sufficient now, prices have stabilized and thefts have ceased.

I am about to be tested for a third time, which should allow me to go back to work personally. It is estimated that we will need to have six tests in total. At first it was very confusing, but now for the third test it goes much faster – no more than half an hour.

It should not be a massive outbreak as it was in Xi’an, there is a concerted effort to control it.

On the evening of January 13, China registered 124 new cases in 24 hours, including 41 in Tianjin. Several towns and villages in Henan, a province east of Xi’an, have been quarantined. A total of 29 million people in China are currently locked up.

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