Curbs back in some Beijing districts as coronavirus cases surge
Schools closed, security checkpoints set up and testing ordered after 79 cases over four days
BEIJING: Several districts of the Chinese capital put up security checkpoints, closed schools and ordered people to be tested for the coronavirus yesterday after an unexpected spike in cases linked to the biggest wholesale food market in Asia.
After nearly two months with no new infections, Beijing officials have reported 79 cases over the past four days, the city's biggest cluster of infections since February.
"The containment efforts have rapidly entered into a war-time mode," senior city government official Xu Ying told a news conference.
The official said 7,200 neighbourhoods and nearly 100,000 epidemic-control workers had entered the "battlefield".
The outbreak has been traced to the sprawling Xinfadi market where thousands of tonnes of vegetables, fruits and meat change hands each day.
A complex of warehouses and trading halls spanning an area the size of nearly 160 soccer pitches, Xinfadi is more than 20 times larger than the seafood market in the city of Wuhan where the outbreak was first identified.
The new cases have led to officials in many parts of Beijing reimposing tough measures to stifle the spread of the virus, including round-the-clock security checkpoints, closing schools and sports venues and reinstating temperature checks at malls, supermarkets and offices.
Beijing residents were also advised to avoid crowds and gathering in groups for meals.
Some districts even sent officials to residential compounds in what they described as a "knock, knock" operation to identify people who had visited Xinfadi or been in contact with people who had.
None of Beijing's 16 districts has been hit by a blanket lockdown.
But access to the neighbourhoods of the people who were infected have been blocked as nucleic acid tests are being administered to residents.
The 11 neighbourhoods around Xinfadi and 10 others near another market have also been sealed as 90,000 residents undergo tests.
Beijing began mass testing on Sunday.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Sunday that it was informed of the outbreak and an investigation by Chinese officials.
"WHO understands that genetic sequences will be released as soon as possible once further laboratory analyses are completed," it said in a statement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, when asked whether China had shared data with the WHO about the cluster, told reporters he was not aware of the specifics but China and the WHO were in close communication.
An epidemiologist with the Beijing government said on Sunday that a DNA sequencing of the virus showed the Xinfadi outbreak could have come from Europe.
"The pattern of mutation and transmission of the new coronavirus is not yet fully understood, and with the epidemic still spreading overseas, the situation in the capital is very severe," Mr Xu Hejian, spokesman for the Beijing city government, told a news conference.
Governments in other parts of China warned residents against non-essential travel to the capital and implemented isolation protocols for visitors from Beijing. - REUTERS