Beijing: Beijing’s largest district, Chaoyang, on Monday kicked off three rounds of Covid-19 tests for all its residents as they queued up at shops to snap up essentials amid fears of an impending Shanghai-style lockdown.
Beijing will expand mass testing for Covid-19 to another 10 districts and an economic zone from Tuesday, the city government announced late on Monday night. Millions more will be tested thrice between Tuesday and Saturday.
The government also announced that large-scale gatherings, sporting events and exhibitions will remain suspended in Beijing until further notice.
Dozens of infections were reported in the last three days after spreading undetected for a week.
By Monday evening, Beijing had logged 70 cases since April 22, 46 of them in the district of Chaoyang.
The district of Chaoyang is home to 3.5 million people in a city of some 22 million.
The central business district with offices and malls besides foreign embassies are located in Chaoyang; a cluster of shining skyscrapers dot its skyline.
Cases have so far been reported from eight of Beijing’s 16 districts with local authorities locking down buildings with even a single infection.
A sense of alarm quickly spread among residents after a government official said on Sunday that an infection transmission chain had spread through the city for a week.
The Chinese capital’s caseload is small compared to the hundreds of thousands of infections reported in Shanghai, which reported 51 Covid-19 deaths on Monday as it enters a month of full lockdown.
But reports of food and supplies’ shortages from the financial hub means residents of Beijing aren’t taking chances.
Residents and those who work in Chaoyang will have to get themselves tested three times – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – this week, city authorities announced on Sunday.
It triggered frenzied buying of daily necessities with residents lining up for hours at the nearest market on Sunday night and Monday morning.
Local media reports said several markets suffered shortages of fresh vegetables; delivery apps said they had run out of stock items like meat.
Social media has been buzzing with activity since Sunday with families and friends urging each other to stock-up food and essentials in case of a snap lockdown.
Speculation is rife that it’s not if but when the district, and then the rest of the city, will implement curbs.
Residents lined up in long queues to get tested early on Monday with local Communist Party of China (CPC) volunteers barking orders urging calm and discipline.
Most schools, offices and markets, however, remained open in the city on Monday.
Chaoyang district authorities have told residents to reduce public activities and suspended in-person private tutoring classes.
The district has suspended all offline training sessions and group activities at various off-campus training institutions.
“The epidemic prevention and control situation in Beijing is severe and complex, and it faces multiple risks,” a Beijing government official said at a press conference on Monday.
Case numbers, however, are likely to go up.
“The virus has sneakily spread in the city for a week and multiple generations of cases were presented,” Tian Wei from the Beijing Municipal government was quoted as saying by state media on Sunday, indicating more Covid-19 transmissions are likely to be discovered.
Meanwhile, Shanghai reported the highest number of Covid-19 deaths on Monday for Sunday, as it continues to battle the worst outbreak of the disease.
The financial hub reported 51 new deaths among its Covid-19 patients on April 24, up from 39 the day before, the local government said on Monday.
The city also recorded 16,983 new local asymptomatic coronavirus cases, down from 19,657 a day earlier.
The number of confirmed symptomatic infections stood at 2,472, up from 1,401 the previous day, the local government added.