The COVID-19 situation in China’s capital is “extremely severe,” a city official said yesterday, as 27 new infections were reported from Beijing, where a new cluster has sparked a huge trace-and-test program.
The resurgence — believed to have started at the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market — has sparked alarm as China had largely brought its outbreak under control through mass testing and lockdowns imposed earlier in the year.
The new cases took the number of confirmed infections in Beijing over the past five days to 106, as authorities locked down almost 30 communities in the city and tested tens of thousands of people.
“The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe,” Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian (徐鶴健) said at a press conference.
The WHO had already expressed concern about the cluster, pointing to Beijing’s size and connectivity.
Officials in the capital have said they would test stall owners and managers at all of the city’s food markets, restaurants and government canteens.
Beijing’s COVID-19 testing capacity has been expanded to 90,000 a day, Xinhua news agency reported.
The Beijing Municipal Commission of Transportation yesterday banned taxi and ride-hailing services from driving out of the city, Xinhua reported, in another move to try and contain the new outbreak.
China’s National Health Commission also reported four new domestic infections in Hebei Province, which surrounds Beijing, and a case reported in southwestern Sichuan Province was linked to the Beijing cluster.
Authorities were also racing to track people from Beijing who had traveled to other parts of China, and those who visited the capital have been encouraged to get tested.
“High-risk people who have left Beijing must inform local authorities immediately,” Xu said.
Authorities yesterday shut down another market — Tiantaohonglian in Xicheng District — after one employee there was diagnosed with COVID-19, China Central Television reported.
Seven residential estates surrounding that market were also locked down.
In total, Beijing officials said they have disinfected 276 agricultural markets, closed 11 markets, and disinfected more than 33,000 food and beverage businesses in a bid to stamp out the new cluster.
Shanghai Municipal Health Commission Director Wu Jinglei (鄔驚雷) told reporters during a briefing that people coming from mid to high-risk COVID-19 areas in China city would be placed under centralized quarantine for 14 days.
The origins of a new cluster of COVID-19 infections in Beijing are uncertain, WHO officials said on Monday, but the claim that it might have been caused by imports or packaging of salmon was not the “primary hypothesis.”
State-run newspapers reported that the virus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon at Beijing’s Xinfadi market amid worries about a second wave of the pandemic in China.
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, stopped short of saying packaging needs to be tested systematically following the new infections.
“I think we need to look at what has happened in this case, I don’t believe it is the primary hypothesis. But it needs to be explored,” Ryan said in a briefing.
His comments echoed those of experts earlier on Monday who said the fish itself was unlikely to carry the disease and any link to salmon may have been the result of cross-contamination.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Bloomberg
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