A claim by Chinese health authorities that the Omicron variant was introduced to a resident of Beijing through a piece of regular mail from Canada is being dismissed as ludicrous.
A Chinese state-controlled news outlet first reported that the Jan. 7 infection of a Beijing resident was the result of receiving a letter or parcel from Canada that passed through Hong Kong.
The Chinese report attributed the possibility of that having happened to the deputy director of the Beijing Centre for Disease Control in a briefing, even though organizations such as the World Health Organization and Canada Post say the risk of contracting coronavirus from a piece of mail is low.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a University of Ottawa China expert who spent more than three decades in the federal public service working on China issues, says it is ludicrous to suggest it could have survived on an envelope or a package that had travelled such a distance through international mail.
McCuaig-Johnston says the Chinese allegation shows that its leadership is still targeting Canada after its long-running dispute over the arrest of high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018, an extradition case that was dropped last year, which allowed her to return to China.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says he may have his own opinion of why China was making that claim but that he deferred to experts on how COVID-19 can be spread.
Beijing has reported its first local omicron infection, according to state media, weeks before the Winter Olympic Games are due to start.
The infected person lives and works in the city’s northwestern district of Haidian and had no travel history outside of Beijing for the past two weeks. The individual experienced symptoms on Thursday and was tested on Friday for COVID-19, officials said in a news conference Saturday.
The news of the infection comes less than three weeks before the Winter Olympic Games’ opening ceremony on Feb 4., and around two weeks before the start of Lunar New Year celebrations in China.
So far, multiple cities in China have reported omicron infections, including Zhuhai and Zhongshan in southern Guangdong province as well as the city of Tianjin, which is 30 minutes from Beijing by high-speed rail.
Officials across the country have urged residents to stay in their cities for the new year, instead of traveling back to their hometowns. China has adopted a strict “zero-Covid” policy, with authorities locking down residential compounds and even entire cities such as Xi’an when a local outbreak has been discovered in an effort to stamp out community transmission.
The Beijing patient’s residential compound and workplace have been sealed off and authorities are mass-testing people linked to either location for the coronavirus. Some 2,430 people had been tested as of Saturday night, according to The Global Times, a state-owned newspaper.
China reported 119 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, of which 65 were domestic cases. The country has reported 104,864 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.
—The Canadian Press