Beijing coronavirus outbreak: city raises emergency level and grounds hundreds of flights

By Lily Kuo

China’s capital has raised its emergency level as dozens of new coronavirus cases emerged and residents were barred from any “unessential” travel outside Beijing following a new outbreak of the virus that is yet to be brought under control.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled, schools suspended and all residential compounds ordered to reinstate strict screening after authorities raised the city’s four-tiered Covid emergency response level from three to two on Tuesday evening. All movement in and out of the city will be “strictly controlled”, officials said at the briefing.

Authorities reported 31 new cases of the virus in Beijing as of Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections to 137 over the past six days.

The new outbreak, linked to a sprawling wholesale food market in the south-eastern district of Fengtai, has spread to nine of the city’s 17 districts. On Tuesday, at least 1,255 inbound and outbound flights were cancelled, according to state media.

Chen Bei, deputy secretary general of the Beijing Municipal People’s Government said: “Beijing faces serious danger of imported cases and spread in the city and the country.”

Officials stopped short of ordering businesses and factories to shut under the new emergency level, which had been lowered just two weeks ago. Authorities called on employers to continue regular operations but encourage remote working and ask employees to stagger their arrivals at work.

All primary and secondary schools were ordered to stop attending classes on Tuesday, while kindergartens and universities were also suspended. Officials also ordered that traffic to parks as well as indoor public spaces like museums and libraries be limited.

The Xinfadi seafood market, which also sold produce and meat, as well as two other markets in nearby districts have been shut after newly confirmed cases. Twenty seven neighbourhoods have been designated as medium risk and instituted temperature checks and registration while neighbourhood near the Xinfadi market has been deemed high risk and sealed off, with residents ordered to quarantine at home and undergo tests for the virus.

Cases in Hebei, Liaoning, Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces have been linked to the cluster in Beijing, prompting other cities to impose quarantine measures on travellers from Beijing. As of Tuesday, Macau is requiring all arrivals from Beijing to undergo 14 days of medical observation. Residents in Beijing from medium or high-risk areas are now allowed to leave the capital while those from other districts must complete a test for the virus within seven days of their departure.

The new outbreak comes just as the country was returning to normal after largely containing the virus. Before the new outbreak, the capital – which had imposed strict travel restrictions and quarantine measures – had not seen a new domestic case in almost two months.

Some officials have suggested the virus may have been brought in from outside of the country after local media reported that traces of the virus had been found on chopping boards used for imported salmon sold at the Xinfadi market.

At the briefing on Tuesday evening, health officials said the new outbreak appeared to be linked to human-to-human transmission and contaminated goods. Shi Guoqing, deputy director of the emergency centre under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday evening that there was “no evidence” that salmon was the host or intermediate host of the most recent outbreak of the virus.