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Panic in Beijing as new outbreak of coronavirus grows

The abrupt resurgence of cases in Beijing threatens to disrupt hard-won normalisation of life & business after China quelled its first epidemic months ago.

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Beijing: China is racing to control a new outbreak in Beijing that reached nearly 100 infections over the weekend as it faces the biggest test of its coronavirus containment strategy yet.

Officials are fanning out over housing compounds, knocking on doors to question residents on whether they’ve had contact with the city’s largest fruit and vegetable market, Xinfadi, where the new outbreak is believed to have originated.

In the Xicheng district where the market is located, people lined up late at night over the weekend at a sports stadium that’s been re-purposed into a testing center.

Elementary schools for first to third grade students delayed the resumption of classes and high-schoolers were encouraged to study from home. Many companies told employees to work from home, housing compounds ramped up security checks and swimming pools were shuttered.

“The risk of virus spread is very high, and resolute and decisive measures are needed to prevent further spread,” vice premier Sun Chunlan said during a state council meeting on Sunday, reported state media.

Also read: China reports 66 new Covid-19 cases after sudden spike of infections in Beijing

The abrupt resurgence of cases in the capital of 20 million people threatens to disrupt the hard-won normalization of everyday life and business after China quelled its first epidemic months ago. The outbreak in Beijing, China’s cultural and political center where its business elites and political leadership reside, is set to be a reckoning for the Asian giant’s strategy of aggressive virus control.

While China’s contained outbreaks in its central and northeastern regions through oppressive lockdowns, it’s never had a significant flare-up in a major city until now. There are already signs of hesitation to impose the costly and disruptive measures China has used elsewhere: while transport links were cut off quickly in northeastern provinces when a new cluster emerged last month, Beijing’s domestic flights and train services were still running without interruption as of Monday morning.

The new outbreak is re-igniting fears that the pandemic, which has sickened over 7.8 million people and killed over 430,000 people worldwide, is nowhere close to burning out. Infections in Japan’s capital of Tokyo are also on the rise, while American states like Florida are reporting record case growth.

All 79 confirmed cases detected so far in Beijing have been merchants or visitors to the Xinfadi market and their family members. Zhang Yuxi, the market’s chairman, said on Friday that the virus has been traced to a chopping board used by a seller of imported salmon at the market, but officials remain stumped over the new cluster’s origins.

Genome sequencing of the virus points to its source being Europe and the new outbreak could have originated from contaminated seafood or meat that was imported into China, said Yang Peng, a researcher with the Beijing Center for Diseases Prevention and Control in an interview on state television CCTV, on Sunday.

The market, which supplies 80% of Beijing’s farm produce, was closed on Saturday for disinfection while more than 10,000 merchants and employees will undergo testing. Several neighborhoods in Beijing, including the financial district that’s home to the headquarters of China’s biggest banks and financial firms, have seen their risk levels raised to medium from low. Around eleven residential sub-districts near the market have been locked down.

The deputy head of the district that’s home to the wholesale market and the general manager of the market have been dismissed.

“I can sense the panic although I live quite far away from the market,” said Beijing resident Cathy Liu, 26, an intellectual property analyst. “The unknown origin makes it even more terrifying. We can’t rule out the possibility of a huge outbreak in Beijing.”- Bloomberg

Also read: Wife of Covid ‘martyr’ and Wuhan whistleblower gives birth, calls newborn his final gift


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