Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools as coronavirus cases jump

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City sees 137 cases over six days, with some fearing the entire city is headed for a lockdown

BEIJING : China's capital cancelled scores of flights, shut schools and blocked off some neighbourhoods as it ramped up efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has fanned fears of wider contagion.

Many in Beijing have had their daily lives upended by the resurgence of the disease over the past six days, with some fearing the entire city is headed for a lockdown as the number of new cases mounts.

Health officials reported 31 new infections on Tuesday, taking cumulative cases since last Thursday to 137 in the city's worst resurgence in four months, with 356,000 people tested since Sunday.

The Xinfadi market to which the new outbreak has been traced is the capital's largest trading centre for farm produce, with high levels of product traffic and clusters of people, said senior disease control official Pang Xinghuo.

"The risk of the outbreak spreading is huge and controlling it is difficult," she told a news conference. "(We) can't rule out the possibility the number of cases will persist for a period of time."

The authorities stepped up movement control measures yesterday.

About 60 per cent of scheduled flights at Beijing Capital International Airport had been cancelled or were likely to be, aviation data tracker Variflight showed, as were about half the flights at Daxing, the city's other major airport. Most of the affected flights were domestic.

State media said train passengers also got ticket refunds, an apparent bid to discourage travel, even though services have not been officially cancelled.

All outbound taxi and car-hailing services and some long-distance bus routes were cancelled on Tuesday, when officials put the city back on a level two alert, the second-highest in a four-tier virus emergency response system.

About 27 neighbourhoods were designated medium-risk areas, with entrants undergoing temperature checks and registration. An area near the massive wholesale food centre where the outbreak began was marked high-risk, and its residents were quarantined.

Kindergartens, primary schools and high schools shut across Beijing, as did some bars, restaurants and night clubs.

Outside Beijing, the provinces of Hebei, Liaoning, Sichuan and Zhejiang have reported new cases linked to Xinfadi. Many provinces have imposed quarantine requirements on visitors from Beijing.

In a separate development, Norway said yesterday that salmon from the country was not the cause of the recently discovered outbreak in Beijing.

Norwegian salmon came under scrutiny in China after a recently discovered cluster was reportedly traced to Xinfadi and a chopping board used for cutting up imported salmon.

"We're working out the details today and I can confirm the issue seems to be resolved," said Fisheries Minister Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen, who added that Chinese and Norwegian officials had met and concluded Norwegian salmon was unlikely to be the source. - REUTERS, AFP