China is reporting its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on its mainland.
Health authorities say a person in the northern port city of Tianjin tested positive for the new variant after arriving from overseas on December 9. The individual, who was shown to be asymptomatic, is now quarantined and undergoing treatment in a hospital.
The first reported case of omicron on the Chinese mainland comes two years after COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was first detected in the central city of Wuhan. China has since imposed a “zero-tolerance” strategy, including mass testing, snap lockdowns and extensive quarantines, as a means to prevent any further outbreaks.
Health authorities around the world are warning that omicron, which has been detected in more than 60 countries since it was first discovered in South Africa in November, could soon surpass delta as the most dominant variant of the coronavirus.
Denmark says omicron will trigger 10,000 new infections by the end of the week, compared to the current rate of 6,000 cases driven entirely by delta. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health also warned Monday that omicron “will soon dominate,” with new infections rising from 4,700 daily cases to a record 90,000 to 300,000 daily cases.
The new warnings come just days after the World Health Organization warned that omicron poses a “very high” global risk because its mutations may lead to higher transmission. The U.N. health agency said while the current vaccines are less effective against omicron, early data shows it causes less severe symptoms than other variants.
In a related development, Reuters news agency is reporting that a real-world study in South Africa shows that Pfizer’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine provides 70% protection against hospitalization against severe illness. The study, conducted by Discovery Health, the country’s largest private health insurance administrator, was based on more than 211,000 positive COVID-19 test results between November 15 to December 7, with about 78,000 believed to be caused by omicron.
The study concluded that while there was a higher risk of reinfection during the current fourth wave of new cases than the first, the risk of hospitalization among adults was 29% lower than during the first wave.
Some information for this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.