Beijing has raised its coronavirus emergency response level, closing schools and encouraging people to work from home, amid its “most serious” outbreak of the disease since February.
The city’s response level was raised from two to three after officials warned overnight that the situation in the capital was “extremely severe”.
In just five days, a swathe of new infections have been reported from a cluster that has sparked a huge trace-and-test program.
China has increased testing and lockdown measures in parts of the capital to control what appears to be its largest coronavirus outbreak in more than two months, claiming in an editorial for the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper Global Times the city has “beefed up its prevention measures”.
The city’s total has jumped to 106 confirmed cases since Friday while Wu Zunyou, China’s top epidemiologist, says the next three days are “critical”.
The coronavirus resurgence — believed to have started at the city’s sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market — has prompted alarm as China had largely brought its outbreak under control through mass testing and draconian lockdowns imposed earlier in the year
“The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe,” Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian warned at a press conference.
The paper quoted Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital in Beijing, who claimed: “Beijing will never become the second Wuhan”.
“Compared to the initial stage of the outbreak in Wuhan, we have a very clear understanding of the virus, and people’s awareness of prevention and control has made great progress. The experience accumulated in the early days of prevention and control also provides an effective reference for prevention and control measures taken at this stage.”
The World Health Organisation had already expressed concern about the cluster, pointing to Beijing’s size and connectivity.
Officials in the city said they would test stall owners and managers at all of its food markets, restaurants and government canteens.
29 residential communities are now in lockdown while four “large districts” are in “wartime mode,” the publication claimed.
Fresh meat and seafood in the city and elsewhere in China was also being inspected on the unlikely chance that was how the virus spread.
276 food markets had been disinfected, 11 underground and semi-underground markets shut down and more than 200,000 people who had visited the Xinfadi market since May 30 were screened within 72 hours.
Authorities are also barring residents of areas considered at high risk from leaving Beijing and those from such areas who have already left must report to local health bureaus as soon as possible.
Taxis and car-hailing services have been banned from taking people out of the city and the number of passengers on buses, trains and subways will also be limited and all are required to wear masks.
All indoor sports and entertainment venues in Beijing were ordered to shut on Monday, while some other cities across China warned they would quarantine arrivals from the capital.
Schools have also been shut, with most to resume online teaching from Wednesday.
The National Health Commission also reported four new domestic infections in Hebei province, which surrounds the capital, and a case reported in Sichuan province was linked to the Beijing cluster.
Authorities were racing to track people from Beijing who had travelled to other parts of China, and encouraging those who visited the capital to get tested.
Beijing officials said they had disinfected 276 agricultural markets and 33,000 food and beverage businesses, closing 11 markets.
Seven more residential estates were also locked down on Tuesday.
“Beijing’s outbreak will probably be controlled quite quickly,” said Wu Hulin, a 23-year-old tech worker in Xicheng district who got tested.
“I think (China) is doing a better job compared to overseas.”
Officials had warned that, since May 30, 200,000 people had visited Xinfadi market, which supplies more than 70 per cent of Beijing’s fruit and vegetables.
More than 8,000 workers there had been tested and sent for quarantine.
Until the new outbreak, most of China’s recent cases were nationals returning as COVID-19 spread globally.
China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday the virus type found in the Beijing outbreak was a “major epidemic strain” in Europe.
Wu Zunyou, the body’s chief epidemiologist, told state broadcaster CCTV the outbreak “most likely” originated from outside China or other parts of the country.
— with AP and AFP