China’s capital city raced Monday to control a fresh coronavirus outbreak, with 79 cases linked to a single wholesale food market in Beijing where authorities have locked down neighbourhoods and launched a massive test and trace programme.
The outbreak in China — where the disease first emerged last year — had largely been brought under control until a fresh batch of cases was detected in the capital last week.
Health officials reported 49 new coronavirus cases nationwide on Monday, including 36 more in Beijing where a cluster linked to the Xinfadi market in the south of the city has fuelled fears of a second wave of infections.
City official Li Junjie said at a press conference that cases had also been found at the Yuquandong wholesale market in the capital’s northwestern Haidian district. At least one of the people infected there had a connection to Xinfadi.
As a result, Yuquandong had been closed as well and nearby schools would be shut, while people living in 10 housing estates around it would be forbidden from leaving their homes, he said.
AFP saw a car bearing the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) logo — China’s authority on controlling the disease — arrive Monday at the area surrounding the heavily-guarded market.
Multiple residential compounds on the same block had been sealed off, and residents were seen receiving parcels from delivery drivers through gates.
It was not immediately clear how many households were under the new lockdowns, but the orders will affect thousands of people.
Officials also said Monday some close contacts of cases linked to the market would have to wear “smart thermometers” to monitor their body temperatures, while others had been sent to centralised quarantine facilities.
The capital has begun mass testing workers from the two markets, as well as those who live nearby and anyone who visited in recent weeks.
AFP reporters saw dozens of people queuing up to be tested at one local stadium on Monday morning, which was heavily guarded by staff in hazmat suits.
Officials said more than 76,000 people connected to Xinfadi or living nearby had given throat swab samples, though most have not been tested yet.
Eleven housing estates around the market have been locked down since Saturday.
Nearly 200 testing points have been set up across the capital.
Several cities have warned residents not to travel to Beijing.
Authorities are also stepping up efforts to trace people who have visited the Xinfadi market, with companies and neighbourhood communities messaging staff and residents to ask about their recent movements.
At least one building management company asked commercial tenants to declare if any of their staff had visited the market or been in contact with those who had.
The city government has also sacked two senior officials from Fengtai district, where Xinfadi is located, as well as the market’s general manager.
The outbreak also turned the spotlight on the safety of Beijing’s food chain.
Shelves normally stocked with fruit at the Xianhui supermarket in central Beijing were empty Monday, with staff saying that large quantities of fruit delivered from the Xinfadi market had been taken off the shelves.
They also said customers had been panic-buying vegetables on Sunday.
A 19-year-old student surnamed Shao told AFP she started school in the capital a few days ago but was already planning to return to her hometown because she was worried about the virus.
“I just came to Beijing for a few days. Now I’m going to go home again,” she said.
There were also 10 imported cases reported on Monday, the likes of which have accounted for the majority of China’s infections in recent months as overseas nationals return home.
In total 177 people are now ill with the disease in China — two severely — which is the highest since early May.
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