By Simone McCarthy
Beijing is racing to track a Covid-19 outbreak that may have been spreading in the capital for a week, city authorities said over the weekend, raising the prospect more stringent restrictions could soon be implemented in line with other Chinese cities.
Chaoyang, one of the city’s largest districts, announced Sunday that it would launch three rounds of mass testing of those who work and live in the district, some 3.5 million residents, according to the latest census.
The announcement came after 11 cases were detected in a 24-hour period, sparking panic buying in the district, which includes the business center and a number of foreign embassies, as residents rushed to stock up on basic goods in case of a lockdown, despite authorities’ assurances there were ample supplies.
Beijing officials said over the weekend they were tracking cases across multiple districts and involving students, tour groups, and interior decoration workers. The capital recorded 19 new local cases on Sunday, bringing the total in the city since April 22 to 60, according to national health data released Monday morning.
“The city has recently seen several outbreaks involving multiple transmission chains, and the risk of continued and undetected transmission is high. The situation is urgent and grim,” municipal official Tian Wei told reporters Saturday. “The whole city must act immediately.”
The pressure to contain the outbreak in the capital comes as cases continue to grow in Shanghai, despite a failed weeks-long lockdown that has brought the financial hub to a halt. The city reported more than 19,000 new cases and 51 deaths on Sunday, according to official figures released Monday morning.
The daily death count marks a record high since city officials first reported fatalities in the city’s ongoing outbreak last Monday, though questions have been raised about whether the numbers account for all fatalities.
In Beijing, authorities mobilized to curb transmission, placing several residential communities in Chaoyang under “control management,” according to state media, using a term that typically means residents are barred from leaving the area while they undergo testing. A district official on Sunday warned that disruptions to business and work were inevitable in the course of fighting the outbreak.
Screening would be upped in tour groups in the city, after cases were detected among a group of mainly elderly tourists who were now under quarantine, officials said on Saturday. At least one village in a suburban district of Beijing linked to a positive case was also closed down as mass testing was carried out.
The rush to contain the outbreak comes as fears grow across China that more stringent measures could be in store as the country sticks with a stringent “zero-Covid” policy to eliminate the spread of the virus in each outbreak.
That policy has faced its most stark challenge since March 1 as the highly transmissible Omicron variant sparked several simultaneous outbreaks. Case counts have ballooned to unprecedented levels in China, driven by large outbreaks in northeastern Jilin province and Shanghai.
Lockdowns and enforced quarantines in Shanghai have sparked anger and desperation among citizens, who have struggled to access to food and medical care. The city had earlier said it was not going to implement a full, citywide lockdown, leaving many unprepared when officials rapidly changed course late last month.
Restrictions have also spilled over into other areas with several dozen cities rolling out some form of lockdown restrictions, according to a count earlier this month.
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