Resurgence of Virus in Beijing Forces Top Leaders to Concede Severity
By Eva Fu
June 17, 2020
A recent resurgence of the CCP virus in China’s capital has forced top officials to warn that a worse situation is yet to come.
Authorities have sealed off all neighborhood compounds as of June 17, after dozens of cases emerged from the sprawling Xinfadi food market. Beijing is now scrambling to control movements in and out of the city, halting trains and canceling nearly 70 percent of flights at its two international airports. All school classes have been suspended.
Beijing officially reported 137 new infections as of June 17, including a jump of 33 within a 24-hour span. Authorities have underreported numbers before; nonetheless, the cluster outbreak prompted health authorities to conduct mass testing. The increase is especially concerning given that China has taken extraordinary measures to keep the virus out of its political center.
“The virus outbreak in Beijing is still on an upward trend. The risk of virus spreading is significant and controlling it is difficult,” Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the city’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press conference.
The new wave of infections in the past week has prompted Chinese leader Xi Jinping to pronounce virus control the “most important and most pressing task,” according to state media reports of a June 16 political meeting in Beijing.
Noting the sharp increase in cases, Yang Zhanqiu, a professor at the virology laboratory at Wuhan University, suspected that the virus may have reemerged as more contagious than in Wuhan. The virus multiplies more quickly in winter weather, and the summer heat should have made it more difficult for the virus to grow, Yang told state media.
If the Beijing strain is more contagious, this would present new challenges to creating an effective vaccine, he noted.
The outbreak in Beijing has spread to at least four other provinces across the country, including neighboring Hebei, the northeastern province of Liaoning, Sichuan in the southwest, and Zhejiang in China’s eastern coast. Several other provinces have established restrictions on travelers from Beijing.
City on Edge
The burgeoning contagion, which authorities said emerged from Beijing’s southern suburb, is forcing locals such as Ms. Chen back into home isolation after weeks of eased regulation.
“It’s so scary,” Chen told The Epoch Times on June 16, adding that residents have been once again required to scan the health code on their phones to enter or leave their housing compound. “I was beginning to think it was almost over, but all of a sudden it tenses up again.”
Some 356,000 people in Beijing have undergone virus testing. Chen, who lives in Chaoyang district, said she has been ordering most of her food online to avoid going out.
“You don’t see many people out on the streets now,” she said. She has stopped eating raw cucumbers, her summer treat, for fear that it came from the Xinfadi market, which authorities said is the source of the new outbreak. She’s also staying away from meat and seafood, since Chinese authorities have blamed imported salmon for the outbreak after detecting the virus on a salmon cutting board in the market—even as experts have said contaminated fish can’t spread the disease.
Norway’s Food Safety Authority has said there’s no evidence indicating fish can be infected. On June 17, the Nordic country’s fisheries and seafood minister said they can “clear away uncertainty” that their salmon could be the source.
While Chen hasn’t been to the Xinfadi market, she can’t be sure whether she’s consumed food from the market, as trucks from Xinfadi frequent neighborhoods—including hers—to sell vegetables, she said.
“Their coverage is just huge,” she said.
Food prices have surged by as much as fivefold over the past few days, says Mr. Li, who lives in the Shijingshan district in the western part of Beijing.
Panicked residents have emptied shelves of vegetables in the supermarket near his home, he said in an interview. He has stocked up with hundreds of pounds of rice and 100 liters (about 26 gallons) of water after reading about a possible food shortage, and is persuading his friends to do the same.
He likened it to purchasing insurance.
“Of course you don’t want to see accidents, but if they do happen, at least you won’t be at a complete loss,” he said.
One of his friends is currently quarantining at home while awaiting test results. Li, who hasn’t been requested to get tested, questioned whether the test results would be meaningful. Hundreds of days would be needed for Beijing to screen all of its 21-plus million residents, given the current daily testing capacity of 90,000, he noted.
“I can’t even begin to imagine it,” he said. “There’s no guarantee they can keep the outbreak under control.”