BEIJING (AP) – Beijing’s largest wholesale food market was closed behind police guard and the surrounding neighborhood locked down Saturday after more than 50 people tested positive for coronavirus in the Chinese capital.
The outbreak, which took place more than 50 days after the last local case in this city of 20 million people, showed how the virus can still return as restrictions are eased. The city’s rapid response reflects China’s focus on rapidly evolving to stem the spread of new cases wherever they appear, a lesson learned from the earlier outbreak.
“The epidemic was already almost over, and suddenly there are one or two new hot spots,” said Jin Zheng, a woman in her 20s walking through central Beijing. “I’m a little scared. I hope everyone avoids going outside too much and wears protective clothing.
Authorities have cordoned off 11 residential communities near the Xinfadi market, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) southeast of the Temple of Heaven tourist site. Police could be seen manoeuvring white fences in place to seal a road leading to a group of apartment buildings.
Communist Party members and volunteers were mobilized to buy food and other basic necessities for affected residents, the Beijing News newspaper said in a message on social media. It was not immediately clear how many people live in the 11 communities.
Outside the market, paramilitary police in green uniforms erected vehicle barricades and stood in position at the entrances. Some people were allowed in after showing documents at checkpoints. A red banner that read “We can’t let our guard down when it comes to preventing and controlling epidemics” hung from a fence.
Beijing officials reported 45 workers in the market tested positive for coronavirus, but showed no symptoms. This was in addition to seven previous cases of people with symptoms, six of whom had visited or worked at the market. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its official case count.
Inspectors took 1,901 samples of meat, surfaces, garbage cans, handles and other items from the market, and 40 tested positive, authorities said.
The Beijing News, citing the market chief of Xinfadi, said the virus had been found on a cutting board for imported salmon. This has led several major supermarket chains to remove salmon from their shelves, reported another newspaper, the Beijing Youth Daily.
Attention focused on the market after reports of the first three cases on Thursday and Friday. Two of the infected people had been to the market, and the third worked with one of them at a nearby meat research institute, according to Chinese media.
City officials then decided to test all market workers for coronavirus. They also ordered the testing of food and environmental samples from all wholesale food markets in the city, and food safety inspections in restaurants and supermarkets.
Beijing, which was gradually returning to normal, reversed some recent measures to ease restrictions on coronaviruses.
Plans to reopen primary schools for first- to three-year-olds on Monday have been put aside, and sporting events have been cancelled. One immediate casualty was an orientation race scheduled for Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The National Center for the Performing Arts, which had just reopened on June 2, has backed down, according to The Paper, a Chinese media outlet.
Cao Yajiang, who works in finance, said it is difficult to avoid a second outbreak, but expressed confidence that the authorities could control it.
“When I first saw him, I was really freaked out, but when I calmed down and thought about it, I thought it didn’t matter, because they’re going to seal the area,” he said. “There should be no large-scale epidemic.”
This story corrects that six of the seven people with symptoms had visited or worked at the market, not all seven.