Beijing is reintroducing strict lockdown measures and conducting mass testing of residents after a fresh cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged in one of its largest wholesale food markets.
The Chinese capital went into what state media calls “wartime mode” after 106 new cases were reported around the Xinfadi wholesale food market in Beijing’s southwestern Fengtai District. The city has deployed 100,000 epidemic control workers, put at least 28 local communities under strict lockdown, and kept closed schools, sports and entertainment facilities that were scheduled to reopen. Officials in Beijing are barring residents who live in high-risk areas from leaving the capital, and taxis and ride-sharing services have been banned from taking people outside the city.
Analysts say a vigorous response is vital for the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after it built domestic support by declaring victory over COVID-19 despite an early cover-up and missteps. Yet some experts believe that Beijing is cracking down too hard, and residents are calling for more people-friendly measures for controlling the outbreak.
According to the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, there have been 106 new COVID-19 cases in Beijing since a locally transmitted infection was reported on June 12, the first in nearly two months. All patients are receiving treatment in Beijing’s Ditan Hospital.
Beijing then entered “wartime mode” on June 13. The city upgraded the risk level of a township in the Fengtai district, where the COVID-19 cases were first discovered, to the highest level. Some 28 regions in four districts in Beijing upgraded their COVID-19 risk level to medium.
The government has adopted lockdown measures for the Xinfadi market and surrounding neighborhoods and has closed other wholesale markets around the city.
Xinfadi supplies residents of greater Beijing with 1,500 tons of seafood, 18,000 tons of vegetables and 20,000 tons of fruit every day, according to the market's website and Reuters.
More than 10,000 people at the Xinfadi market reportedly have taken nucleic acid amplification tests. These reveal if a patient is actively infected with SARS-CoV-2, according to the American Society for Microbiology.
China’s state media has reported that the coronavirus was first detected in the market on the chopping boards used for preparing imported salmon in the market, prompting major supermarkets in Beijing to remove all salmon from their shelves overnight.
Beijing authorities suspended sports events and the arrival of tourists from other parts of China immediately following discovery of the new cases. The city government also announced Tuesday that all students from grades 1-12 will stop going to school, and all restaurants will suspend hosting weddings and large parties.
An employee at a local bank who asked to remain nameless told VOA Mandarin that to enter the bank, customers must now answer a list of questions including whether they have visited the Xinfadi wholesale market in addition to having temperatures taken at the door.
Many see overreaction
The Chinese government has continued to contend the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, first reported late last year, originated outside China, despite no evidence. Chinese officials also have also downplayed their own role in slowly responding as the virus spread in Wuhan and then holding back information as it spread abroad.
As of Tuesday, COVID-19 has killed 438,843 people worldwide and infected 8,096,403 in 188 countries and regions, according to Johns Hopkins University trackers. Some 3,917,055 people have recovered from an infection, as cases continue to spread globally.
But keeping the coronavirus contained at home is vital for the ruling CCP, which has repeatedly framed its response to the pandemic as a painful but necessary step, while highlighting how western countries, especially the United States, are struggling to reduce the spread.
Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of state newspaper Global Times, vowed Beijing would not become the second Wuhan, the origin site of the global pandemic.
"There is no way Beijing becomes Wuhan 2.0. The world will see China's powerful capacity in controlling the epidemic, including government's strong leadership, respect to science, public's willingness to cooperate and nationwide coordination of control measures. We will win again," he tweeted on Sunday.
There is no way Beijing becomes Wuhan 2.0. The world will see China’s powerful capacity in controlling the epidemic, including government’s strong leadership, respect to science, public’s willingness to cooperate and nationwide coordination of control measures. We will win again.— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) June 14, 2020
In response, Chen Weihua, the European Union bureau chief for the official China Daily, who has also reported from Washington, DC, and New York City, tweeted, “If Beijing, with its capacity and alert, becomes Wuhan 2.0, then there will be 50 NYC 2.0 in the US, given its total election campaign mode and disregard for the spike warnings.”
If Beijing, with its capacity and alert, becomes Wuhan 2.0, then there will be 50 NYC 2.0 in the US, given its total election campaign mode and disregard for the spike warnings.— Chen Weihua （陳衛華） (@chenweihua) June 14, 2020
Yet overly strict measures can be counterproductive.
A man selling peaches on the street, who didn’t want his name used, told VOA Mandarin that he used to sell fruit in Xinfadi market but said, “Now we can’t enter the market. I get my products from the local farmers, now they have their peaches sitting at home rotting.”
Ms. Liu, a retired teacher who asked that her full name be withheld, told VOA Mandarin that she hopes this time the Chinese government could adopt more people-friendly measures and strive to protect patients’ sensitive information. “So, people wouldn’t discriminate [against] Beijingers as they did with people from Hubei three months ago,” she said.
Even medical authorities inside China are warning about overreacting to the current outbreak in Beijing.
“In fact, the current cases are limited to specific communites, and have not spread to entire Beijing area,” said China's chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou. “I don’t think we need to limit travel to Beijing. I also don't think people who travel from Beijing have to be quarantined unless they’ve been to the high-risk areas.”
Lin Yang of the VOA Mandarin Service contributed to this report.