There’s a new outbreak of the coronavirus in China, this time in Beijing. In response, China has raised its virus alert level, closed schools, locked down certain neighborhoods and shuttered a massive food market where the virus appears to have spread.
The newgrew to 106 cases Tuesday, with 29 communities in the sprawling Chinese capital back on lockdown. Health officials confirmed another 27 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a smaller increase than in previous days but still a worrying resurgence after Beijing enjoyed almost two months without a single new infection.
Yet again, a coronavirus outbreak in China is linked to a food market. The vast Xinfadi wholesale market is at the epicenter of the country’s latest battle against COVID-19.
The size of more than 250 football fields, Xinfadi claims to be the biggest wholesale food market in Asia, supplying up to 80% of the meat and vegetables to the capital’s 22 million people.
This graphic shows the difference between the Wuhan market where the virus originally spread and Xinfadi market in Beijing.
CNBC reports that closing this one market will have a big impact on the entire local economy.
“Since Xinfadi is the largest farmers market in North China, its shutdown will drive up food inflation and depress restaurant businesses,” said Dan Wang, analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). “The official policy lacks clarity on how cities and individuals should respond.”
In addition to raising the alert level, Beijing is now testing an estimated 200,000 people in an attempt to identify everyone who might be spreading the virus. Schools have been closed but, at least so far, China isn’t locking down the entire city the way it did in Wuhan.
Beijing has ordered all schools to close in an escalation of containment measures as it struggles to halt a new coronavirus outbreak which has already spread to neighboring provinces.
While the decision to close schools and limit people leaving signals the severity of the growing crisis, officials have so far taken a more targeted approach towards the latest outbreak compared to similar resurgences in Wuhan and in the country’s northeast region. The stakes are higher in Beijing, where the country’s business and political elite reside, and an aggressive lockdown risks undoing China’s economic re-opening and nascent moves to restart travel with other countries.
Still, the number of flights in and out of Beijing has been cut substantially by approximately 70 percent. While the market seems to be the place where the virus spread, China’s CDC chief is suggesting the sudden uptick in cases suggests the virus has been spreading quietly since May.
Online news portal Caixin reported on Wednesday that the Xinfadi cluster may have already begun in May, according to Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is possible that there were already a lot of asymptomatic or mild carriers during that month, and that’s why there is a high amount of the virus in the environment. This is our estimation and needs to be further verified,” Gao told a meeting with public health officials in Shanghai on Tuesday, according to Caixin…
Party mouthpiece People’s Daily reported on Twitter that 1,255 flights were cancelled at two Beijing airports, accounting for 70 per cent of scheduled trips, on Wednesday morning. Passengers who booked train tickets in and out of Beijing have been allowed to refund tickets without fees.
Other residents have been advised not to leave the city unless absolutely necessary and must first be able to show a negative nucleic test result within the past seven days, according to Chen Bei, deputy secretary general of the Beijing municipal government.
Case numbers are expected to keep going up for several more days despite the “wartime” effort. It looks like Beijing caught this in time but it’s a reminder that we’re still a long way from herd immunity and any reopening efforts risk creating a second wave of the infection. Here’s a CBS News report on the new outbreak in Beijing.