Health officials in Beijing say that the city’s first case of the omicron variant may have come from international mail.
Beijing announced the case had been detected on Saturday after the infected patient took a voluntary test. Officials have since sealed off the patient’s residential compound and begun contact tracing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Pang Xinghuo, the deputy director of Beijing’s municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a Monday press conference that a piece of mail the patient touched had traces of omicron on it and “could not be ruled out” as the source of exposure, the Journal reported.
The health official added that more than 16,500 people who were possibly exposed to the person were tested and received negative results.
While it is possible to be infected with COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects, researchers have said the associated risk tends to be very low.
“Virus can remain viable on surfaces for a while at cold temperatures, but transmission via contaminated surfaces is not a common route of transmission,” Ben Cowling, the University of Hong Kong’s chair professor of epidemiology, told the Journal.
Beijing’s first reported omicron case comes just weeks ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to start on Feb. 4.
In an effort to curb the virus ahead of the international event, the Olympics Organizing Committee announced that the general public would no longer be able to purchase tickets to the Games.
China has also said that people traveling to Beijing must receive a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival. That rule will take effect on Jan. 22 and remain in place at least until the end of March.