A man gets a throat swab for a COVID-19 test at a mobile testing facility in Beijing on Monday. Beijing's first reported case of the Omicron variant has prompted stepped-up measures in the nation's capital just weeks before it hosts the Winter Olympic Games.

There have been eight Omicron cases detected in the country which do not have immediately apparent sources of infection such as recent travel or contact with a COVID-19 positive patient.

This was revealed yesterday by the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology Division Technical Director Dr Avery Hinds during the ministry’s COVID-19 virtual update.

Hinds said investigations are ongoing, adding that some of the patients may have come in contact with symptomatic cases.

“A couple of them did have contact with other individuals who had flu-like symptoms and the investigations is going on to see whether or not there was a travel history with those individuals,” Hinds said.

He notes that the numbers of such cases were now increasing.

“As we are continuing the epidemiological investigations and the observations of what’s going on in the population—we are seeing where there are increasing proportions of these cases that don’t seem to be linked to importation and are linked to what we call hidden chains of transmission,” he said.

However, Dr Hinds said, it was not yet the right time to declare the variant as being in community transmission.

Community transmission is when an infectious disease begins circulating within a group of people who have had no known contact with a person infected with or exposed to the disease.

“As we continue to uncover these chains, we will get a better idea of how well established these (chains of transmission) are or if they are self-limiting,” he said.

However, Hinds said the ministry attempts to contain any such chains of transmission when they are discovered.

“We would try to either isolate those who were in contact and also to quarantine those who are not yet positive but may have been exposed to limit the spread of those chains. So while we continue to do that and we don’t see evidence of multiple chains popping up all over the population, then we don’t yet say we have established what’s known as community transmission,” he said.

He, however, noted that the recent trends point to it being an imminent threat given Omicron’s track record internationally.

“We’ve seen it happen in other populations and we continue to do our own observations. We’ll not be surprised to see it happen but we are doing everything within our public health capability to delay it as far as possible by implementing the public health measures around the cases we do identify.”

The country recorded its first Omicron case on December 13, an imported case. Since then, 28 people have been detected with the variant of concern.