Beijing has brought its latest coronavirus outbreak under control, a Chinese medical expert said yesterday, although the capital can still expect sporadic new cases. The city has recorded 158 infections since confirming the first on June 11 in its worst outbreak since early February, which has been traced to the sprawling wholesale food centre of Xinfadi in its southwest.
Despite just a few cases compared to numbers outside China, authorities have acted quickly to curb contagion risks in the capital, which had recently won praise for its tough countermeasures. A mere few days after the first case, the city returned to a level two alert, the second-highest in a four-tier virus emergency response system, leading to new curbs on residents’ movements.
“The epidemic in Beijing has been brought under control,” said Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist of China’s Center for Diseases Prevention and Control. Going by recent case numbers, June 13 was the peak of the current outbreak, Wu told a regular news conference a day after new confirmed cases fell to 21, from 31 the previous day.
“When I say that it’s under control, that doesn’t mean the number of cases will turn zero tomorrow or the day after,” he warned, however.
“The trend will persist for a period of time, but the number of cases will decrease, just like the trend that we saw (in Beijing) in January and February.”
While Beijing has not been placed under a strict lockdown for all but a trickle of authorised personnel, as imposed in the central city of Wuhan where the virus first emerged late last year, the Chinese capital has imposed tough travel curbs. Residents of 32 neighbourhoods designated medium-risk and one area deemed high-risk have been barred from leaving the city, while residents of low-risk areas must show proof of negative disease tests in order to leave the city.
Hundreds of thousands of residents have been tested in just a few days as authorities stepped up efforts to identify those infected by the Xinfadi cases or who caught the virus there. Since May 30, as many as 200,000 people from all over Beijing have been to Xinfadi, officials said. People trying to enter Beijing must also be tested and isolated at centralised locations for quarantine.
Air and land transport services have been curbed. Other provinces and cities, including the financial hub of Shanghai, are subjecting arrivals from Beijing to days of quarantine, effectively deterring travellers. In the past week, the provinces of Hebei, Liaoning, Sichuan and Zhejiang have reported a handful of cases linked to the Xinfadi cluster. A small city in Hebei with new infections due to Beijing went into a partial lockdown on Thursday, denying vehicles entry and stopping residents with fever and coughs from leaving.
Travel restrictions were placed on nearly half a million people near Beijing yesterday as authorities rushed to contain a fresh outbreak of the coronavirus with a mass test-and-trace effort and lockdowns in parts of the Chinese capital. Another 21 cases of the virus were reported in the past 24 hours in Beijing, the National Health Commission said, taking the total to 158 since a fresh cluster was detected last week after months of no confirmed local transmissions.
One case was also recorded in the neighbouring city of Tianjin and two more in Hebei province – which surrounds Beijing – prompting travel restrictions on Anxin county, home to nearly half a million people, banning most traffic going in and out of the area. Essential service vehicles are allowed into Anxin, about 150km from Beijing, while private and government cars can enter and leave only if they have permission, state media said.
Beijing is collecting around 400,000 samples a day for testing amid fears the new outbreak could trigger a second wave of infections in China, which had largely brought the contagion under control since it emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year. “I had wanted to get tested anyway, but my workplace said all mall staff must be tested,” a 25-year-old shop assistant surnamed Pang told AFP as she lined up at the Workers’ Stadium in central Beijing to be swabbed. “I don’t really mind waiting, it’s for the greater good and the benefit of society.”
A chef from a nearby restaurant, who gave his surname as Wang, said he had been sent by his boss to get tested. “Anyway we haven’t had many customers over the past few days, people are scared to go out as much now,” Wang told AFP.
The latest outbreak started in Beijing’s sprawling Xinfadi wholesale market, which supplies more than 70% of the city’s fresh produce. Some 30 residential compounds have been locked down. Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiology expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said a high number of infections had broken out among market traders selling seafood, beef and mutton.
On Wednesday, an official at the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention had said the number of people using the market would make the outbreak “hard to control”. To prevent the virus spreading beyond Beijing, officials have urged residents to stay in the city and forbidden those in areas considered “medium and high risk” from leaving.
People who want to leave must be from a low-risk area and show they have tested negative for the virus within the last week.
Eleven markets have been shuttered, thousands of food and beverage businesses disinfected, and schools closed again in the city. Several bars and restaurants in the popular Sanlitun area were ordered to close yesterday, with staff told to get tested for the virus.
To secure the city’s food supply, officials were setting up temporary markets, releasing more pork from state reserves and sourcing vegetables directly from growers, said commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng.
Beijing’s airports cancelled two-thirds of all flights on Wednesday and flight-tracking websites showed around 140 passenger flights had landed or departed so far yesterday. The city normally handles more than 1,500 flights a day.
China also reported four imported cases on yesterday among nationals returned from abroad.
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