Beijing reintroduces lockdown amid fears of COVID-19 resurgence

A security person stands at a sealed off residential compound near the Yuquandong market, in Haidian district, Beijing, 16 June.

Beijing reintroduced on Tuesday lockdown measures and kicked off mass testing after a fresh cluster of novel coronavirus cases emerged from the city's largest wholesale food market, news wires reported. The Chinese capital registered 36 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, bringing the total number to 79 since a locally transmitted infection was reported on 12 June for the first time in nearly two months.

The cases are linked to Xinfadi market in the southwest of the city, which supplies most of the capital's fresh fruit and vegetables. The market, which also sells meat and seafood, has been shut down since Saturday. The outbreak has already spread to the provinces of Liaoning and Hebei, where a total of five new cases were found to be close contacts of patients in Beijing.

The sudden reemergence of the virus in Beijing, previously considered among the country's safest cities, has raised the prospect of a second wave of infections and the possible reintroduction of the types of sweeping lockdowns that had previously brought much of the country to a halt and hammered the economy.

At a meeting of the State Council, China's cabinet, late on Sunday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said the risk of the latest outbreak spreading was "very high," citing the market's dense and highly mobile population, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Authorities imposed a lockdown on 11 residential compounds in the vicinity of the market, strictly prohibiting anyone from entering or leaving. Residents will have their temperatures checked and reported on a daily basis, and their food and daily necessities delivered.

The Beijing government has ordered anyone who visited the market and their close contacts to stay home for two weeks for medical observation. It also delayed the resumption of classes for elementary school students, which was originally scheduled for Monday.

The outbreak is not the first time the virus has returned. In May, several places in the country's northeast were swiftly placed under stringent lockdown after imported cases caused outbreaks among local communities. Before the new cluster, however, Beijing had only recorded 420 local infections and 9 deaths compared to over 80,000 confirmed cases and 4,634 deaths nationwide, thanks to its strict travel restrictions imposed at the start of the pandemic.

Like much of the rest of the country, life in Beijing had started to return to normal, with businesses and schools reopening, and crowds returning to shopping malls, restaurants and parks.

In a sign of the Chinese government's confidence in its control of the outbreak, the country's parliament even held its annual gathering in late May after a two-month delay, allowing thousands of delegates to travelled to Beijing from across the country and sit side by side for meetings that lasted 10 days.

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