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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Covid lockdown fears spark panic buying in Beijing as largest district begins mass testing | China

Beijingers were flooding supermarkets to stock up on food on Monday, hoping to avoid Shanghai-style shortages in the case of a city-wide lockdown as the capital records a growing number of Covid infections.

Authorities in Beijing have ordered 3.5 million residents and workers in the biggest district of Chaoyang to report for three coronavirus tests this week, after the area recorded 26 of Beijing’s 47 symptomatic cases since Friday.

On Monday, China reported 3,266 symptomatic cases and 20,454 asymptomatic cases. The majority were in Shanghai, where 19,455 were reported. Beijing reported 19 cases on Monday, including 14 symptomatic.

“The current outbreak in Beijing is spreading stealthily from sources that remained unknown yet and is developing rapidly,” a municipality official said on Sunday.

Beijing residents undergo testing for Covid-19 at a swab collection site on Monday as Chinese authorities rushed to stamp out an outbreak ini the capital.
Beijing residents undergo testing for Covid-19 at a swab collection site on Monday. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

More than a dozen residential buildings were put under lockdown in Chaoyang, an affluent downtown area home to embassies and international businesses. “Chaoyang district is now the topmost focus for pandemic prevention,” said the city’s Communist party head, Cai Qi, according to the New York Times.

“Important pandemic measures cannot be left waiting till the next day … All at-risk sites and individuals involved in these cases must be checked that day.”

In Beijing the streets were quieter than usual, and restaurants less busy. During the Monday lunch hour hundreds queued at testing sites across Chaoyang, but wait times were usually less than an hour.

Chinese health authorities are hoping to avoid a repeat of events in Shanghai, which resisted going into lockdown, before imposing partial city closures and then eventually a total lockdown.

Now in its fourth week, Shanghai’s lockdown has resulted in major food shortages and delivery delays, in large part due to road closures and too few delivery drivers, leading to freight bottlenecks and widespread community discontent.

In Beijing residents flocked to supermarkets to stock up on food. Many of the capital’s fitness studios and gyms cancelled classes or closed.

Customers shop at a supermarket with near-empty shelves in Beijing following a Covid outbreak in the Chaoyang district.
Customers shop at a supermarket with near-empty shelves in Beijing on Sunday following a Covid outbreak in the Chaoyang district. Photograph: Carlos García Rawlins/Reuters

The city also imposed tight entry controls, with travellers required to have a negative Covid test from within 48 hours.

Supermarket chains including Carrefour and Wumart said they had more than doubled inventories and extended opening hours on Sunday, while Meituan’s grocery-focused e-commerce platform increased inventory and the number of staffers for sorting and delivery, according to the state-backed Beijing Daily.

On Weibo one person said their father had gone to a Chaoyang supermarket in the morning, and crowds of people waited with trollies for trucks to unload. “There have been so many epidemics in Beijing, and I have never seen such a situation. It [seems] that the failure of Shanghai’s early epidemic prevention and supply has been a big blow to the confidence of the people.”

On Twitter, Chinese state media worker Liu Xin said she was stocking up “for the first time in two years” after the detection of some cases in her district. “Beijing’s turn. But we are ready,” she wrote alongside photos of empty supermarket shelves and fridges.

“Let the tough times come.”

Photos and videos across social media showed empty shelves at some stores, as shoppers appeared to ignore assurances that Beijing would not suffer the same fate as Shanghai.

The Global Times, the state-backed English-language tabloid, quoted Beijing officials saying the city had sufficient daily supplies and was trading as normal. It said the mass testing across Chaoyang would determine if further measures were needed, including lockdowns.

The numbers recorded in Beijing are low by global standards, but China remains committed to a zero-Covid policy. The policy responses of lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine have been successful in containing outbreaks in the past, but are being challenged by the highly virulent Omicron strain. Authorities now emphasise achieving zero-Covid “in a social setting”, meaning no cases are found outside of the quarantine system.

After apparent changes in the way they attribute deaths, authorities in Shanghai have begun reporting fatalities from the outbreak, including 51 on Sunday. However the true number of people who have died after getting Covid-19 is believed to be much higher, with widespread reports of uncounted fatalities in hospitals and nursing homes.

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