Beijing braces for coronavirus second wave as city shuts market

Beijing is bracing for a second wave of coronavirus after the Chinese capital was forced to lock down residential compounds and close a large market in response to new locally transmitted coronavirus cases.

City authorities at the weekend confirmed 41 symptomatic cases and 46 without symptoms, according to a statement from the World Health Organization, many of which had links to Beijing’s largest fresh seafood and vegetable market in the western area of the city.

A city of more than 20m people, Beijing enforced some of China’s strictest travel controls at the start of the pandemic. Until the latest outbreak, the city had gone more than 50 days without a new case.

In the early days of the pandemic, which originated in the central China city of Wuhan, Beijing managed to keep total infections below 600. The home of the country’s top leadership, city managers imposed severe restrictions on entering the capital that included mandatory quarantines in government facilities.

Most international flights have been diverted to nearby cities so as to lower the risk of imported infections in China’s political hub.

Over the weekend, authorities closed the Xinfadi market, a sprawling complex that provides most of Beijing’s fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables. Several residential compounds on the west side of the city have been locked down and more than 100 people have been put in quarantine.

In a stark turn of events, several cities across China have warned their residents against travelling to Beijing, including Dalian and Dandong in northeastern China.

China has adopted a “zero tolerance” stance toward new cases. Areas that present any new cases have been quickly locked down, often trapping millions of people. In May, several areas in northern China were locked down after small clusters of the virus were detected.

Many other countries have developed plans to manage small, inevitable outbreaks while avoiding sweeping closures of districts or cities.

A report from nationalistic tabloid Global Times reported that the virus was detected on cutting boards used for imported salmon at the market. This led to a frenzy of online commentary blaming imports for the new cluster. Many shopping centres across the city have reportedly removed salmon from shelves.

The reports linked to imported salmon have helped fuel the idea that coronavirus did not originate in China and may have been brought in by foreigners. Chinese diplomats have promoted the concept that the US military may have planted coronavirus in Wuhan last year.