China tightens restrictions as Beijing outbreak widens

China has tightened coronavirus restrictions in Beijing, cancelling flights and closing schools in a bid to stem the outbreak in the capital.

Officials said on Wednesday that 31 new cases were discovered on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections detected in the city over the past six days to 137.

The increase in the number of cases has slowed over the past four days and areas outside of the city have not yet seen a sharp uptick of infections.

The Beijing outbreak has been linked to the sprawling Xinfadi market in the west of the city, which supplies most of the city’s fresh produce. The market has been shut down and several residential compounds in the same district put under lockdown.

Schools across the capital have been closed and taxis have been prevented from entering or leaving the city.

Nearly 1,300 flights, or 70 per cent of flights departing from Beijing’s two airports, have been cancelled on Wednesday, according to state media. Officials announced that anyone boarding a plane would have to take a nucleic acid test, designed to detect traces of the virus.

Officials in other provinces have also begun rolling out new containment measures.

The Chinese territory of Macau said anyone who had travelled to Beijing within the past two weeks would be subject to a 14-day period of medical supervision in a government facility.

“We are now responding to outbreaks with a calmer attitude,” said a local official in the southern province of Guangdong, who asked not to be named. “We have gained some experience and now it’s just a matter of following procedures: sending out notices, tracking people from high-risk areas and getting companies to pay more attention.”

Beijing has redeployed thousands of community workers to take temperatures at the gates of residential compounds, only a week after the government had eased regulations. 

Many Beijing residents had recently stopped wearing masks outside but the new outbreak has prompted malls and restaurants to insist on customers donning protective gear again.

Analysts do not think the new measures will be lifted imminently. “In view of the recent Beijing outbreak, we expect China’s precautionary measures, such as quarantine requirements and travel restrictions, to persist for an extended period,” said Serena Zhou, an economist at Mizuho Securities.

China’s central bank has tightened its monetary stance in recent weeks. Ms Zhou said the latest outbreak could force policymakers to loosen that position in the hopes of stimulating economic growth.

The new case numbers in Beijing pale in comparison with figures in the US, where thousands of people are diagnosed with the virus daily. But Beijing, China’s political hub and home to the Communist party elite, has been on high alert since the start of the pandemic and has largely prevented a crisis from enveloping its most important city. 

Experts have noted that a Covid-19 disaster in the capital would be embarrassing to the Communist party, which has claimed success in controlling the outbreak compared with the US, UK and many European states.

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