Beijing: Beijing reported 25 new infections on Friday, lower than at the start of the week, after China declared that the peak of the outbreak has passed.
But anxiety remains high across the capital as residents went back under partial lockdown and transport links continue to be interrupted. Beijing’s two airports have canceled more than 800 flights scheduled for Friday, while the government tightened other intra-city and cross-province transportation.
Schools have remained closed since Wednesday and citywide housing compounds are under strict control.
China projected confidence on Thursday with its chief epidemiologist saying that the outbreak that’s now spread to 183 people has come under control and that further infections will be “sporadic.”
Still, Beijing should only loosen restrictions after reporting no new cases for two consecutive weeks, Wu Zunyou added in an interview aired Friday on state television.
Wu said in a Thursday briefing that the peak of infection was on June 13, based on the government’s curve showing when patients began to show symptoms or feel discomfort.
The outbreak in Beijing, which erupted after almost two months without new infections in the capital, has been a test of China’s virus containment framework. Although the outbreak is the country’s worst since Wuhan, the city where the pathogen first emerged last December, the government has taken less aggressive measures compared to resurgences elsewhere. It has avoided an across-the-board lockdown due to the capital’s economic and political significance.
How the new outbreak started remains a mystery. Wu, the chief epidemiologist of China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said pinpointing its origin is a hard process.
The outbreak emerged in Beijing’s biggest wholesale market, Xinfadi, and the virus was traced back to the chopping board of a vendor handling salmon, prompting a nationwide boycott of the seafood. But global experts have said that there’s no evidence that food can transmit the virus.
Wu Guizhen, China CDC’s chief expert in bio-security, said that the origin was an infected person or contaminated food, and that the seafood market’s conditions expedited the virus’s spread.
The wide range of positive samples detected from the Xinfadi market hint that “the virus has been there for a while,” said Zhang Yong, a researcher at China CDC’s National Institute of Virology Disease Control and Prevention, who studied the genetic sequencing from the Beijing outbreak. Gao Fu, the head of China’s CDC, said earlier this week that the virus has likely been circulating in mild or asymptomatic people since the end of April.
Beijing’s coronavirus cluster found a younger population of people infected compared to Wuhan’s mass outbreak, in which the elderly were found to be the most vulnerable. The latest outbreak, coming when temperatures in Beijing typically surpass 30 degrees Celsius degrees (86 degrees Fahrenheit), is also challenging a traditional theory that the epidemic is unlikely to prevail in hot weather.
After earlier publicizing that the strain in the Beijing outbreak was similar to that in Europe, Chinese experts now believe that the strain looks closer to an older one that also circulated in Europe.
The virus could have been latent in the dark and humid environment at Xinfadi wholesale market in areas that were not sanitized, Zhang said.- Bloomberg