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Beijing Residents Rounded Up By Authorities as Chinese City Goes Back Into Lockdown

Schools shut, travel bans reintroduced as 'extremely severe' COVID-19 outbreak hits China

 on 17th June 2020 @ 12.00pm
authorities in beijing are rounding up residents and placing them in quarantine © press
Authorities in Beijing are rounding up residents and placing them in quarantine

Chinese authorities have started rounding up residents in the capital Beijing and forcing them into quarantine as the city is hit with a new COVID-19 outbreak, described as "extremely severe" by officials.

One scientist has warned the new strain of the coronavirus could be more infectious than the previous outbreak.

Health officials in China are blaming the new cases on imported European salmon.

Footage shows authorities in hazmat suits barking orders through a megaphone as people line up in queues to be packed into buses and quarantined.

The move to place the city back into lockdown comes amid fears that a second wave of virus cases is about to ravage the country.

Activist Jennifer Zeng posted the footage online and claims that seven hotels were requisitioned as quarantine sites with people rounded up in an all-day operation after an outbreak linked to the Xinfadi wholesale market.    

xinfadi wholesale market  believed to be the source of the new outbreak  has been closed off © press
Xinfadi wholesale market, believed to be the source of the new outbreak, has been closed off

On Tuesday, Beijing reported 27 new infections from the Xinfadi cluster, and cases have spiked in recent days after mass testing and draconian lockdowns appeared to have brought China's outbreak to a virtual standstill. 

The boss of the Xinfadi market on Saturday told reporters that researchers had found traces of the novel coronavirus on a chopping board used to cut imported salmon. 

The Chinese Centre for Disease has however come out to say there is no evidence to suggest contaminated salmon played a role in the outbreak.

Tuesday's 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. 

Those at most risk of having come in contact with the virus were also banned from leaving the city, in measures echoing the drastic lockdown in Wuhan where the disease was first detected late last year. 

China now faces a dilemma on how drastically to deal with new outbreaks while keeping the momentum in its economic recovery  - a situation shared by other countries such as New Zealand that have beaten the virus.   

Beijing has not set a GDP growth target for this year for the first time in decades, but analysts say it will have to grow GDP by three percent to steady its economy. 

There remains a sense of unease on Asian and global markets about signs of a COVID-19 resurgence, just as the city was getting back on track and after months of no new cases.

"A cluster like this is a concern and it needs to be investigated and controlled - and that is exactly what the Chinese authorities are doing," WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan said.

China had eased much of its anti-coronavirus measures in recent months as the government all but declared victory against the disease that emerged in Wuhan late last year.

"The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe," Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian warned at a press conference.

The country's Vice Premier Sun Chunlan urged the city's officials to impose "the strictest" virus control measures to contain the spread of the virus, which has been linked to a massive food wholesale market called Xinfadi. 

The World Health Organization had already expressed concern about the cluster, pointing to Beijing's size and connectivity.

Officials in the city said they would test stall owners and managers at all of its food markets, restaurants, and government canteens.

All markets, restaurants, canteens, and offices have been instructed to carry out deep clean and disinfection. Other public facilities, such as museums, galleries, and parks, can only run at 30 percent of its maximum capacity. 

Zhao Honglei, manager of grocery chain store Shuguoyan, told AFP his 13 staff members had all tested negative.

Customers seemed reassured by the testing, he said, but online orders had increased tenfold in recent days.

"People are concerned that it might be crowded at shops or they might get infected," he said.

Beijing's testing capacity has been expanded to 90,000 a day, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Retiree Wu Yaling, 57, was in a long queue of masked people waiting in the scorching heat for tests at a park opposite one city-center hospital.

"I try not to go out as much as possible," she said, adding that her home is near one of the closed markets.

On Tuesday, the capital's transport commission banned taxi- and ride-hailing services from carrying passengers out of the city, Xinhua said.

All indoor sports and entertainment venues in Beijing were ordered to shut on Monday, while some other cities across China warned they would quarantine arrivals from the capital.

Players and coaches from the Beijing Super League football team were all tested and given the week off as their training camp is in the same area of the city as the outbreak.

The National Health Commission also reported four new domestic infections in Hebei province, which surrounds the capital, and a case reported in Sichuan province was linked to the Beijing cluster.

Authorities were racing to track people from Beijing who had traveled to other parts of China and encouraging those who visited the capital to get tested.

Meanwhile, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University - Yang Zhanqiu - told state media that he believed the latest outbreak in Beijing involved a more infectious strain of the virus than the one which hit Wuhan at the start of the pandemic. 

Virologist Yang believes that the new strain could be more infectious based on the high number of new cases in a short period of time, according to China's state-run global times.

footage shows officials is hazmat suits rounding up residents and packing them into buses © press
Footage shows officials is hazmat suits rounding up residents and packing them into buses

The Times reported that Yang believed that if the virus spreading in Beijing "matches the type of virus sampled in the Xinfadi market and from Europe," then it was likely that it had been "imported" into China by food or people from Europe.

Yang did warn that new strains of the virus make finding a vaccination more challenging, explaining: "No doubt different genotypes of the virus can cause the vaccine to be less effective, or even ineffective. 

"That means the vaccine would have to be effective against both viruses circulating in China and those in Europe, adding difficulty to developing a vaccine," he said.

Authorities have been testing market workers, anyone who visited the market in the past two weeks, and anyone who came into contact with either group.

The Chinese capital, with a population of 21.5million, has locked down at least 11 neighborhoods close to Xinfadi, with some areas being fenced off, and launched a mass-testing program to screen all 46,000 people who have visited the market or live nearby.

On Saturday, the Fengtai district, where the market is based, announced a "wartime mechanism" and will establish a command center from which to manage the spread of the new outbreak.

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tags: coronavirus | China
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