The Covid-carrying parcel that’s set the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on edge

The Winter Olympics are just weeks away. Credit: AP

In Hong Kong they are blaming imported hamsters, Shanghai frozen imports and in Beijing, packages from overseas. Just two weeks away from China’s Olympic opening ceremony things have taken a bizarre and concerning twist in this part of the world.

It was inevitable, despite China’s Zero Covid policy, that Omicron would arrive and spread in the world's most populated country. The outbreaks up until now have been somewhat predictable in their nature, tracing back to people who had travelled abroad.

But the case which emerged in Beijing at the weekend has the authorities scrambling to test thousands of close contacts, and many here scratching their heads.

The woman who was the first Omicron case in Beijing had no history of foreign travel, but according to the authorities she had recently received a package from overseas which was tested and found to contain traces of the virus.

It had gone from Canada to the US, to Hong Kong to Beijing - either picking the virus up along the way or carrying it all the way from its point of origin. It was concluded that the strain of Omicron it contained was more similar to that found circulating in America and Singapore.

The Beijing sorting office, through which the package passed, has been shut down

The sorting office through which it passed in Beijing was on Tuesday shutdown and everything, and everyone, inside was tested. People living in the capital have been told to restrict purchases made abroad.

There is mixed data on how long the virus can survive, and remain infectious, on surfaces such as packaging. China has stood out as a nation pinning cases on frozen foods and packaging.

A review of scientific studies last year concluded that the virus that causes Covid-19 can last for up to 28 days on surfaces such as banknotes, steel, glass and vinyl. It can remain contagious on those surfaces for 21 days, compared to just 14 for other, similar coronaviruses.

We all know the virus as primarily an airborne disease – hence the advice to wear masks and improve building ventilation. But hand sanitation (remember Happy Birthday) and surface disinfection are regarded as key virus prevention measures.

The tracing of Beijing’s Omicron ‘outbreak’ to an imported package will only add to the paranoia and strict measures in place in the country.

From Wednesday, there will be just two flights operating between the United States and China.

An already severely paired back schedule has been obliterated due to the Omicron cases found on board almost all routes in recent weeks.

China has stepped up its strict zero-Covid policy ahead of the Olympics Credit: AP

On Tuesday it was confirmed that the mother and a colleague of the woman with Omicron in Beijing have also tested positive.

And a man from another part of the city who had gone for a test before travelling was found to have the virus. He was on a train when he was tracked down and taken to quarantine.

Four cases so far and we expect more to emerge in the coming days.

The Olympic organising committee has said it would take an extraordinary pandemic event to prevent the Games going ahead.

They will begin in two weeks’ time in a ‘closed loop format’.  The thousands of athletes and their teams about to arrive in China will be living in a sealed bubble.

On Monday it was also confirmed that the only spectators allowed will also be pre-approved, tested, and vaccinated, in an attempt to keep Beijing’s Olympic bubble virus free.