Coronavirus: New outbreak in Beijing spreads to second province

Infection numbers rise in South Korea, Egypt and parts of US as lockdowns lift worldwide

Chinese police guard the entrance to the closed Xinfadi market in Beijing on June 13th, 2020. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese police guard the entrance to the closed Xinfadi market in Beijing on June 13th, 2020. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

 

After weeks with almost no new coronavirus infections, Beijing has recorded dozens of new cases in recent days, all linked to a major wholesale food market, raising concerns about a resurgence of the disease.

There had been almost no new cases in the city for almost two months until an infection was reported on June 12th, and since then the total number has climbed to 51, including eight more in the first seven hours of Sunday.

According to the city’s health authority, contact tracing showed all the infected people had either worked or shopped inside Xinfadi, said to be the largest food market in Asia, or had been in contact with someone who was there.

“Beijing has entered an extraordinary period,” city spokesman Xu Hejian told a news conference on Sunday.

The market was closed before dawn on Saturday and the district containing the market put itself on a “wartime” footing.

The Beijing outbreak has already spread to the neighbouring northeastern province of Liaoning. According to the provincial health authority, the two new cases confirmed in Liaoning on Sunday were both people who had been in close contact with confirmed cases in Beijing.

At least 10 Chinese cities, including Harbin and Dalian, have urged residents not to travel to the capital or to report to authorities if they have done so recently.

‘A second Wuhan’

Huaxiang, a neighbourhood in the same district as the food market and which has one of China’s biggest used car centers, raised its epidemic risk level to high on Sunday, becoming the only neighbourhood in the country to be on high alert. This status means there can be no economic activity until the outbreak is controlled.

As of 3pm on Sunday, 10 neighbourhoods in Beijing, such as Financial Street, had raised their risk levels from low to medium.

“Beijing will not turn into a second Wuhan, spreading the virus to many cities all over the country and needing a lockdown,” a government epidemic expert told Health Times on Sunday, referring to the city where the epidemic in China first emerged late last year.

Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist at Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and currently a senior expert with the National Health Commission, predicted that the outbreak will likely be controlled after the initial spike of a few days, according to the report by Health Times, a paper run by state media People’s Daily.

Like other countries around the world, China is concerned to prevent a second wave from emerging after easing lockdowns that hammered its economy earlier this year.

Market scrutiny

An epidemiologist with the Beijing government said on Sunday that a DNA sequencing of the virus showed the latest outbreak in the market could have come from Europe.

“Our preliminary assessment is the virus came from overseas. We still can’t determine how it got here. It might’ve been on contaminated seafood or meat, or spread from the faeces of people inside the market,” state media quoted Yang Peng as saying.

Officials said anyone who had been to or had contact with people who had been to Xinfadi since May 30th will be required to report to their work or residential units and get tested for coronavirus, the Beijing Daily said on Saturday.

Long queues for tests formed outside a hospital near the market on Sunday, pictures in the People’s Daily showed

Beijing health authority spokesman Gao Xiaojun told the news conference on Sunday that anyone in the city with a fever will be given tests for the coronavirus, a blood test and a CT scan.

More than 1,500 tonnes of seafood, 18,000 tonnes of vegetables and 20,000 tonnes of fruit are traded at the market daily, according to its website.

Daily numbers

China also reported its highest daily total of new coronavirus cases in two months on Sunday and infections in South Korea also rose, showing how the disease can come back as restrictions on business and travel are lifted.

Meanwhile, Egypt reported its biggest daily increase on Saturday and infections were rising in some US states as president Donald Trump pushed for businesses to reopen despite warnings by public health experts.

China had 57 new confirmed cases in the 24 hours to midnight on Saturday, the National Health Commission reported. That was the highest since mid-April and included 36 in the capital, Beijing, a city of 20 million people.

The world is seeing more than 100,000 newly confirmed cases every day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

China, where the pandemic began in December, and other countries that suffered early on including South Korea, Italy and Spain have seen numbers of new infections decline. Brazil, India, the United States and other countries are seeing large increases.

China responded to the outbreak with the world’s most intensive anti-disease controls, isolating cities with some 60 million people and shutting down much of its economy in steps that later were imitated by some other governments.

The ruling Communist Party eased most limits on business and travel after declaring victory over the disease in March. Some curbs still are in place, including a ban on most foreign travellers arriving in the country.

Sealed off

On Saturday, authorities in Beijing locked down 11 residential communities near the Xinfadi market. White fencing sealed off a road leading to apartment buildings and drivers were required to show identification to enter the area.

South Korea’s government reported 34 more coronavirus cases, adding to an upward trend in infections.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said 30 of the new cases were in the greater Seoul area, where half of the country’s 51 million people live. New cases have been linked to nightlife establishments, church services, a large-scale e-commerce warehouse and door-to-door sellers.

The Egyptian Health Ministry announced 1,677 new confirmed cases. Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and has its highest coronavirus death toll. The country has reported 1,484 deaths and 42,980 confirmed cases.

In the US, the number of new cases in the south-western state of Arizona has risen to more than 1,000 per day from fewer than 400 when the state’s shutdown was lifted in mid-May, according to analysis by the Associated Press.

Governor Doug Ducey has not ordered Arizona residents to wear masks in public despite warnings by health experts outside the government.

Elsewhere, bar owners in New Orleans were preparing to reopen. San Francisco restaurants resumed outdoor seating on Friday and the California government allowed hotels, zoos, museums and aquariums to reopen.

The states of Utah and Oregon suspended further reopening of their economies due to a spike in cases.

Suspended flights

The latest Chinese cases raised the mainland’s total to 83,132, with 4,634 deaths, according to the Health Commission. South Korea has reported 12,085 cases and 277 deaths.

Also on Sunday, China’s air regulator announced that China Southern Airlines was required to suspend flights between Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the southern city of Guangzhou for four weeks after 17 passengers on Thursday’s flight tested positive for the virus.

Beijing allows each airline to make one flight per week on each route. Under rules announced on June 4th, a route will be suspended for one week if five passengers on a flight test positive and four weeks if the number rises to 10.

In Europe, France’s highest administrative court ruled on Saturday that virus concerns no longer justify banning public protests.

The Council of State’s decision allows for demonstrations and marches as long as health protections are respected. Events must be declared in advance to local authorities and not deemed a risk to public order.

The ruling came as an unauthorised protest against police violence and racial injustice wound down in Paris. Police had stopped at least 15,000 protesters from a planned march through the city on Saturday, citing virus-related restrictions on any gathering of more than 10 people. - AP/Reuters