Beijing fears resurgence of coronavirus as city reports over 100 cases, most linked to Xinfadi market; imposes drastic cut on frequency of flights, long-distance bus
Beijing entered “wartime” emergency as over 100 COVID-19 cases linked to the wholesale Xinfadi market emerged over the past few days, pointing to a resurgence of the virus months after the last few infections were reported cured in China
Beijing entered “wartime” emergency as over 100 COVID-19 cases linked to the wholesale Xinfadi market emerged over the past few days, pointing to a resurgence of the virus months after the last few infections were reported cured in China.
As on Tuesday, the capital reported 31 cases, up from 27 the day before but lesser than Sunday’s 36, even as the emergency response level was raised from II from III. China reported 44 new cases, around the average for recent days. Eleven of those were brought from abroad by Chinese travelers, while one other local case was from Hebei province and one in the Zhejiang province, according to The Associated Press.
Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian said the epidemic situation in the city remained "extremely severe". "This is our top priority. We have to strictly implement all the measures and seize every minute," he said. Authorities have locked down 21 residential estates in Fengtai and the northern district of Haidian, with access to the areas strictly controlled.
Beijing launched mass testing, even conducting “knock knock” operations to identify those who had visited the market. As of Tuesday, it had designated 27 neighbourhoods as medium-risk areas, subjecting people entering to temperature checks and registration. Only the Huaxiang neighbourhood, near the wholesale food centre, is marked high-risk, Reuters reported. Additionally, 19 of Tuesday’s cases were traced to the Fengtai district, Beijing’s city’s health authority said in a statement posted on its Weibo social media account.
A number of communities near the Xinfadi market, which is said to be the size of 16 soccer pitches and is Asia’s biggest wholesale agricultural produce market, where cases have been found have been put on total lockdown. Market workers, anyone who visited the market in the past two weeks and anyone who came into contact with either group. Another market where three cases were found has also been sealed along with the areas around it. In all, 90,000 people are affected in the two neighbourhoods in the city of 20 million.
The Xinfadi market was closed Saturday and 11 neighbouring residential compounds were locked down after more than 50 people in the capital tested positive for the virus. They were the first confirmed cases in 50 days and since March when the Chinese government had declared victory over the novel coronavirus .
Beijing officials said Saturday that 45 workers at the Xinfadi market tested positive for the coronavirus though they showed no symptoms. That was in addition to an earlier announcement of seven people with symptoms including six who had visited or worked at the market.
Inspectors took 1,901 samples from meat, surfaces, dustbins, handles and other objects at the market, and 40 tested positive, the officials said. The Beijing News, citing the head of the Xinfadi market, said the virus had been found on a chopping board for imported salmon. That led to several major supermarket chains removing salmon from their shelves, another newspaper, the Beijing Youth Daily, reported.
Officials said there were 57 confirmed cases in the 24 hours through midnight Saturday. That was the highest daily total since mid-April and included 36 new cases in Beijing.
Beijing’s two major airports have cut back heavily on domestic flights, with some 800 scheduled departures and arrivals cancelled since late last week. Restrictions were put back in place, with visitor numbers at museums, libraries and galleries will be capped at 30 percent of capacity while sporting events and large group activities will be suspended. Primary schools will remain shut. Meetings can be held under stringent conditions with less than 100 participants, while group tourism across the city and provincial borders are suspended.
Taxis and car-hailing services are barred from transporting people across the city border, while residents from high-risk areas cannot leave Beijing. Some long-distance bus routes between Beijing and Hebei and Shandong provinces were halted. At least three shuttle bus services from Hebei and another from Inner Mongolia to Beijing’s Capital Airport were suspended. Bus services from Hebei to Daxing, Beijing’s other major airport, were reduced. Highways out of the capital remained open. Mask wearing, social distancing and disinfecting will be more tightly enforced. Beijing’s Yonghe temple and National Theatre were also closed from Saturday.
The Beijing News newspaper said in a social media post that Communist Party members and volunteers were being organised to shop for food and other daily necessities for the affected residents.
State media has cited experts as saying the latest outbreak in Beijing was different from Wuhan because the cases were localised and the source of the infection was clear, allowing authorities to more easily get the situation under control. However, according to a Reuters report, Hebei, Liaoning, Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces have all reported new cases linked to Xinfadi, leading provinces to impose quarantine requirements on visitors from Beijing.
Beijing health officials said gene sequencing showed the virus strain causing the new outbreak was related to that in Europe, though it wasn’t clear if it was being spread by the movement of people or transportation of food.
“Our preliminary assessment is the virus came from overseas. We still can’t determine how it got here. It might’ve been on contaminated seafood or meat, or spread from the faeces of people inside the market,” state media quoted an epidemiologist with the Beijing government Yang Peng as saying. 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.
The new wave of infections has put the $700 million market for imported salmon in China is at risk. Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of China’s Center for Diseases Prevention and Control said on Sunday that the virus can survive on the surface of frozen food for up to three months and that the agency “highly suspects” contaminated goods as the source of the latest outbreak.
A deputy director at the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told state media he believed the new outbreak involved a more contagious strain of the virus than the one that hit Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic.
The origins of a new cluster of coronavirus infections in Beijing are uncertain, World Health Organisation official Mike Ryan said. The claim that it might have been caused by imports or packaging of salmon was not the “primary hypothesis”, but needs to be explored, he said.
A ray of hope emerged as an experimental vaccine, developed by a Wuhan-based research institute affiliated to CNBG’s parent company Sinopharm, was found to have induced high-level antibodies in all inoculated people without serious adverse reaction.
Three people have been dismissed over the outbreak, including the head of the Xinfadi market, the local Communist party chief, and the deputy head of the district. More than 1,500 tonnes of seafood, 18,000 tonnes of vegetables and 20,000 tonnes of fruit are traded at the market daily, according to its website.
With inputs from agencies
Gita Gopinath, chief economist of the IMF, said that compared to their July forecast, the global growth projection for 2021 has been revised down marginally
The meet between the two leaders comes as rising tensions over Beijing's aggressive posture toward Taiwan and Washington's decision to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia
Beijing was accused of withholding raw data on early cases during a visit by a WHO team in February and has since resisted calls for further investigation