Beijing’s rate of infection has peaked, says China’s chief virologist, even as the authorities are testing hundreds of thousands of people in the capital for Covid-19.
“The situation is now under control,” Dr Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing yesterday.
“We will still see more cases over the coming days, but these are cases uncovered from an earlier infection period, not new infections. The numbers will come down.”
Beijing reported 21 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, all of which were infected before June 12, said Dr Wu.
He added that the peak of the outbreak was last Saturday.
Since the first case on June 11, there have been 158 infections reported in the city, all linked to the Xinfadi wholesale food market in south-western Fengtai district.
The market – the biggest in Beijing and accounting for nearly 90 per cent of its fruit and vegetable supplies – was shut last Saturday, while health workers scrambled to collect thousands of samples to be tested.
Traces of the coronavirus were discovered on a chopping board used for imported salmon, resulting in restaurants and supermarkets pulling salmon off their menus and shelves.
The virus has spread among restaurant workers, said officials.
Seven people working at one restaurant fell ill after a chef went to Xinfadi to pick up supplies and later infected his colleagues in the dormitory where they all live.
Since last week’s outbreak, Beijing has been aggressively testing anyone linked to the market as well as those living near it, in a bid to find and isolate infected cases.
Over 350,000 people have been tested since Saturday and as many are yet to be tested, said city officials on Wednesday.
The authorities have also ordered restaurants to send their workers for testing, as the city tries to ramp up its testing capacity, which stands at 90,000 people a day.
More than 200,000 people have visited Xinfadi since May 30, officials said.
4-tier emergency response in China
China undertook reform of its emergency management system after the 2003 Sars crisis.
The 2007 Emergency Response Law outlines how to prevent and deal with emergencies ranging from natural and accidental disasters to public health and social safety crises. The last covers terrorist attacks or riots.
Based on their scope and severity, these emergencies are graded from one to four.
Level 1 is reserved for the most serious incidents, which are managed by the central government, the State Council. It coordinates response, mobilises national resources and hands down directives to various local governments.
All local governments are required to establish an emergency response command body, comprising key officers of various government departments.
Lower grade response levels are handled by local governments.
Tan Dawn Wei
As of yesterday, Beijing’s national museum is the first in the country to require that visitors take a nucleic acid test before being allowed entry.
The government has also mandated that those travelling out of Beijing have to get tested, leading to long queues at the 100 hospitals and clinics that provide this service.
These tougher measures kicked in on Tuesday night, after the city elevated the emergency response level to two, the second highest of four levels, barely two weeks after it had been lowered.
Schools have been suspended, while neighbourhoods near the market have been placed under lockdown.
The transport authorities have also capped the number of passengers on the city’s buses at 90 per cent and subway trains at 80 per cent of their respective capacities.
Parks and museums have also limited visitors to 30 per cent.
Sellers on popular e-commerce platforms, like Taobao, have suspended shipments to Beijing, while restaurants and bars have been ordered to reduce their operating hours.
The drastic measures taken by the capital city have triggered fears that it may eventually move to a full lockdown, but officials have dismissed that notion.
Experts say Beijing’s largely confined outbreak means that infection numbers will not balloon.
The government is keen to keep the city of 20 million – the country’s heart and political centre – running after the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan brought Beijing’s economy to a standstill.
A Beijing public security bureau spokesman said yesterday that the capital was “not under lockdown”, but was implementing “targeted control” of people’s movement to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.
Professor Yang Zhanqiu of the Institute of Virology at Wuhan University told the Global Times that Beijing’s infection numbers may not exceed a thousand.
“Unlike Wuhan, Beijing’s situation has clear traceability and the source of infection comes from the market. Beijing has taken steps to isolate people who have come into contact with the market,” he said.