Officials in hazmat suits have been seen forcing Beijing residents into quarantine amid fears a second wave of coronavirus could rip through China.
An outbreak linked to the city’s Xinfadi wholesale market affecting 106 people over the past five days has prompted authorities to lock down nearly 30 neighbourhoods and test tens of thousands of people. Today the capital has reported 27 new infections from the new cluster.
Activist Jennifer Zeng posted footage of officials rounding people up and claims seven hotels have been seized and turned into isolation zones. Those most at risk of coming into contact with the disease were banned from leaving the city under measures similar to those imposed in the Chinese city of Wuhan – thought to be the original epicentre of the pandemic.
It comes as China grapples with how to balance containing new outbreaks while letting its economy recover – a dilemma faced by many countries all over the world. The country began lifting lockdown restrictions in March, three months after the pandemic started. But now the Government fears a second wave as new clusters begin to emerge.
At a press conference Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian said: ‘The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe.’ World Health Organisation officials are concerned about Beijing’s size and connections to the rest of the vast country.
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Zhao Honglei, manager of grocery chain store Shuguoyan, said his 13 staff members had all tested negative for coronavirus. While customers seemed reassured by testing, he said online orders had increased tenfold in recent days.
He added: ‘People are concerned that it might be crowded at shops or they might get infected.’
Beijing’s testing capacity has been increased to 90,000 a day, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Retiree Wu Yaling, 57, was in a long queue of masked people waiting in the scorching heat for tests at a park opposite a hospital in the city centre.
‘I try not to go out as much as possible,’ she said, adding that her home is near one of the closed markets.
At least one of the latest patients is in a critical condition and two are in serious condition. Four cases were also reported in neighbouring Hebei province, with three linked to the Beijing outbreak.
The initial spread happened among staff at the Xinfadi market, where about 9,000 workers had been tested previously, according to Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
People lined up around the city for a mass testing campaign targeting anyone who had visited the market in the past two weeks or come into contact with them.
Zunyou told state broadcaster CCTV that authorities detected the outbreak early enough to be confident they can contain it.
He added: ‘For those who were infected, they will start showing symptoms either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. So, if there’s no sharp increase of newly reported cases tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, the outbreak this time will basically stay at the current scale.’
Authorities have banned taxis and car-hailing services from taking people out of the city.
The number of passengers on buses, trains and subways will also be limited and all are required to wear masks.
Fresh meat and seafood in the city and elsewhere in China is also being inspected, though experts have expressed doubt the virus could be spread via food supplies.
Chinese media reports said that salmon had been pulled from shelves in 14 cities including Beijing after the virus was found in a sample taken from a chopping board at Xinfadi market.
The market has been closed for disinfection, as has a second market where three cases were confirmed. Residential communities around both markets have been placed under lockdown, affecting 90,000 people in a city of 20 million.
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