All indoor sports and entertainment venues were shut down in China’s capital on Monday as authorities raced to contain a coronavirus outbreak linked to a wholesale food market, with some neighbourhoods placed under complete lockdown.
Tens of thousands of people were also targeted in a massive test and trace programme, as the number of cases from the new Beijing cluster increased to 79.
The outbreak came after China had largely brought the virus under control following its emergence in a central Chinese city late last year, highlighting the enduring dangers for the rest of the world about a second wave of the pandemic.
Indoor sports and entertainment venues across Beijing have been ordered to close, the municipal party committee said at a press conference Monday.
City official Xu Ying told reporters that all areas must “strengthen public space disinfection and temporarily close sports and recreation indoor facilities”, as well as increasing temperature checks and forbidding non-residents from entering communities.
Earlier on Monday health officials reported 49 new coronavirus cases nationwide, including 36 more in Beijing where a cluster linked to the Xinfadi market in the south of the city has fuelled fears of a second wave of infections.
Authorities have locked down 21 housing estates near Xinfadi and another market, Yuquandong in the capital’s northwestern Haidian district, where cases linked to the Xinfadi cluster have also been discovered.
Officials said that they were in the process of testing more than 90,000 people living in the locked-down communities for the virus.
They said 200,000 people had visited the Xinfadi market since May 30, and they were trying to trace and test all of them, including going door-to-door.
Over 8,000 workers from the market have been tested and sent to centralised quarantine facilities.
AFP saw a car bearing the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) logo — China’s authority on controlling the disease — arrive on Monday at the area surrounding the heavily-guarded Yuquandong market.
Multiple residential compounds on the same block had been sealed off, and residents were seen receiving parcels from delivery drivers through gates.
Officials also said Monday some close contacts of cases linked to the Yuquandong market would have to wear “smart thermometers” to monitor their body temperatures, while others had been sent to centralised quarantine facilities.
– Test and trace –
AFP reporters saw dozens of people queuing up to be tested at one local stadium on Monday morning, which was heavily guarded by staff in hazmat suits.
Nearly 200 testing points have been set up across the capital.
As the implications of the outbreak has spread, several cities have warned residents not to travel to Beijing, with some warning that they will quarantine new arrivals from Beijing.
Companies and neighbourhood communities have messaged staff and residents to ask about their recent movements.
At least one building management company asked commercial tenants to declare if any of their staff had visited Xinfadi market.
The city government has also sacked two senior officials from Fengtai district, where Xinfadi is located, as well as the market’s general manager.
The outbreak has also turned the spotlight on the safety of Beijing’s food chain.
Shelves normally stocked with fruit at the Xianhui supermarket in central Beijing were empty Monday, with staff saying that large quantities of fruit delivered from the Xinfadi market had been taken off the shelves.
They also said customers had been panic-buying vegetables on Sunday.
A 19-year-old student surnamed Shao told AFP she started school in the capital a few days ago but was already planning to return to her hometown because she was worried about the virus.
“I just came to Beijing for a few days. Now I’m going to go home again,” she said.
Another Beijing resident, Dong Yiqin, told AFP she feels “kind of tired” by the latest outbreak.
“Maybe it’s because the ‘battle front’ has been stretched too long,” she said.
There were also 10 imported cases reported on Monday, the likes of which have accounted for the majority of China’s infections in recent months as overseas nationals return home.
In total 177 people are now ill with the disease in China — two severely — which is the highest since early May.