Beijing Locks Down Again As New Infections Surge

(Source: Kobu Agency)

Beijing has stepped up its coronavirus measures as 43 tested positive in three days after nearly two months with no domestically transmitted new cases, in fears of a second wave of Covid-19. All cases are related to the city’s largest wholesale food market.

“The possibility of subsequent cases has not been ruled out,” Beijing CDC said.

The first infection was reported on June 11 when a 52-year-old man tested positive. Since then, dozens of new cases have emerged, who either had worked or shopped at Xinfadi food market, or had been in contact with someone who was there, according to the city’s health authorities.

The market claims to be the largest wholesale agricultural market in Asia, which supplies the majority of Beijing’s groceries. In order to ensure the normal supply of vegetables and fruits in Beijing, the city has set up multiple temporary trading areas and gets grocery shipped from other cities. Up to now, the food supply and price in the city has remained sufficient and stable, residents said.

It’s still unclear how the outbreak started but a whole genome sequencing suggested the virus came from Europe, officials said.

“We still can’t determine how it got here. It might’ve been on contaminated seafood or meat, or spread by people inside the market,” said Yang Peng, an epidemiologist at the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Beijing CDC).

The new outbreak also sparks a panic about seafood. After the virus was detected on a salmon cutting board in the market, major supermarkets in Beijing removed salmon from their shelves overnight. In fact, fish cannot be infected by coronavirus, and so far there has been no human who caught the virus from eating seafood, health authorities said.

Xinfadi market was closed on June 13 as officials declared “wartime emergency mode” in the southwestern Fengtai district where the market is located.

As of June 14, 10 neighborhoods in Beijing had raised their epidemic risk levels to medium, and one was raised to high. Huaxiang, a neighborhood in Fengtai district, became the only neighborhood in the country on high alert, which means no economic activity is allowed until the outbreak is controlled.

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City officials said that anyone who had visited Xinfadi or been in contact with people who had been there since May 30 is required to report their status and get tested for coronavirus, and city residents with a fever would be given tests for coronavirus, a blood test and a CT scan.

Beijing will establish a regular testing system and maintain an epidemiological investigation team with over 500 people and 3,000 in reserve. Now, Beijing has 98 testing sites, which can test over 90,000 people per day.

Meanwhile, the capital will suspend sports events, bar tourism, close entertainment businesses, and keep elementary schools closed, a city spokesperson said.

The outbreak has spread to provinces nearby including Liaoning, Reuters said, where two new cases appeared on June 14 who had been in close contact with confirmed cases in Beijing.

Over 10 cities including Dalian and Suzhou have called for residents not to travel to Beijing and to report to local authorities if they had done so recently.