Beijing coronavirus outbreak: what can we learn from China’s response to feared ‘second wave’?

City bosses reimpose lockdown as Covid-19 returns

Beijing coronavirus
City bosses reimpose lockdown as Covid-19 returns
(Image credit: Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

Beijing has entered a second lockdown after almost 80 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the city following more than 50 days without a new infection.

“The risk of the epidemic spreading is very high, so we should take resolute and decisive measures,” a city government spokesperson said on Monday, after announcing that the Chinese capital has entered “an extraordinary period”.

What is happening in Beijing?

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China’s National Health Commission confirmed one new Covid-19 case on Thursday, six on Friday, 36 on Saturday, and a further 36 on Sunday, reports the BBC.

The fresh outbreak came after more than seven weeks without any new confirmed infections. Three other provinces - Liaoning, Hebei and Sichuan - have also reported confirmed or suspected cases connected to Beijing.

How did the new outbreak start?

The new infections have been linked to the Xinfadi wholesale food market, in Beijing’s southern Fengtai district.

The virus was detected on chopping boards there used for imported salmon, prompting the authorities to shut down the market on Friday as local supermarkets pulled the fish from their shelves, reports the Chinese state-run Global Times.

Samples taken from the market have shown traces of the virus on both imported fish and meat, reports The Guardian.

The chief epidemiologist of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Zeng Guang, has told state media that the coronavirus strain found in Beijing is not the same as that circulating in the rest of the country.

“It is found that the virus came from Europe and the preliminary assessment is that the virus came from overseas. But it is not clear how the virus came into this market,” added Yang Peng, an epidemiologist with the Beijing city government.

What are the authorities doing?

Around 10,000 staff at the Xinfadi market are being tested for Covid-19, and lockdown restrictions were imposed in 11 surrounding neighbourhoods following the closure of the site on Friday.

On Monday, another ten neighbourhoods around the market were restricted, according to state media. No visitors or deliveries are allowed in the affected communities, but residents can come and go.

Schools and nurseries near the market have also been ordered to shut, and the re-opening of primary schools in the city, originally scheduled for today, has been postponed, reports the Global Times.

In addition, three people have been sacked: the general manager of the market, the deputy head of the Fengtai district government, and the local party secretary for Fengtai’s Huaxiang township.

And the authorities have ordered all companies to tell any employees who have visited the Xinfadi market, or had contact with people who have, to quarantine at home for 14 days. Officials say that as of Sunday, more than 70,000 people linked to the market had been tested for the virus, of whom 59 are confirmed to be infected.

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Is this a second wave?

The number of reported new cases “may not sound huge at the moment”, says the BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonnell, but “after more than 50 days with no cases at all, the authorities [in Beijing] are worried this could easily turn into a full-blown coronavirus second wave in the city”.

Al Jazeera reports that officials “are calling for increased testing and sampling to prevent the virus from spreading”.

But not everyone seems worried. On Sunday, Global Times editor Hu Xijin tweeted: “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.”

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