Parts of Beijing locked down, wholesale market shuttered after fresh COVID-19 cluster

Parts of Beijing locked down, wholesale market shuttered after fresh COVID-19 cluster

People are wearing face masks inside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business
People are wearing face masks inside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business after new coronavirus infections were detected, in Beijing, China, June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

SHANGHAI: Beijing banned tourism, locked down 11 residential estates and shuttered a wholesale market after a fresh cluster of COVID-19 cases sparked fears of a new wave of infections.

Chu Junwei, an official of Beijing's southwestern Fengtai district, told a briefing on Saturday (Jun 13) that the district was in "wartime emergency mode".

Throat swabs from 45 people, out of 517 tested at the district's Xinfadi wholesale market, had tested positive for the new coronavirus, though none of them showed symptoms of COVID-19, Chu said.

A city spokesman told the briefing that all six COVID-19 patients confirmed in Beijing on Friday had visited the Xinfadi market. The capital will suspend sports events and inter-provincial tourism effective immediately, he said. Nine nearby schools and kindergartens have been closed.

One person at an agricultural market in the city's northwestern Haidian district also tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 without showing symptoms, Chu said.

Authorities closed the Xinfadi market at 3am on Saturday, after two men working at a meat research centre who had recently visited the market were reported on Friday to have contracted COVID-19.

"Preliminary judgment suggests these cases may have come into contact with a contaminated environment in the market, or were infected after being in contact with infected people. We cannot rule out subsequent cases in the future," said Pang Xinghuo, an official at the Beijing Center for Disease Control.

People are wearing face masks inside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business
People are wearing face masks inside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business after new coronavirus infections were detected, in Beijing, China, June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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Concern is growing of a second wave of the new virus, even in many countries that seemed to have curbed its spread. It was first reported at a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of central China's Hubei province, in December.

Beijing authorities had earlier halted beef and mutton trading at the Xinfadi market, alongside closures at other wholesale markets around the city.

The chairman of the Xinfadi market told state-run Beijing News that the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon.

Reflecting concerns over the risk of further spread of the virus, major supermarkets in Beijing removed all stocks of salmon from their shelves overnight.

People are wearing face masks inside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business
People are wearing face masks inside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business after new coronavirus infections were detected, in Beijing, China, June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Beijing authorities said more than 10,000 people at the market will take nucleic acid tests to detect coronavirus infections. The city government also said it had dropped plans to reopen schools on Monday for students in grades one through three because of the new cases.

It also said restaurants would be inspected and checks made on seafood products and fresh and frozen meats.

A security guard wearing a face mask tries to block the camera outside the Jingshen seafood market
A security guard wearing a face mask tries to block the camera outside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business after new coronavirus infections were detected, in Beijing, China June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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TOURIST SITES CLOSE

The capital will suspend sports events and tourists from other parts of China, effective immediately, said a city spokesman. 

Beijing's Yonghe temple and National Theatre also announced they would close from Saturday, and the city government said it had dropped plans to reopen schools on Monday for students in grades one through three because of the new cases.

One person at an agricultural market in the city's northwestern Haidian district also tested positive for the coronavirus, Chu said.

Highlighting the new sense of alarm within the city, health authorities visited the home of a Reuters reporter in Beijing's Dongcheng district on Saturday to ask whether she had visited the Xinfadi market, which is 15km away. 

They said the visit was part of patrols Dongcheng was conducting.

And following reports in state-run newspapers that the coronavirus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon at the market, major supermarkets in Beijing removed salmon from their shelves overnight.

That concern also spread to other cities, with a major agricultural wholesale market in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, saying it would remove salmon products from its shelves from Saturday.

In Nanjing, capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu, a local association of restaurants said it would halt the serving of foods containing raw seafood or animal products.

Some Beijing residents, including a man shopping at a Carrefour supermarket in Fengtai district, said they were confident authorities had the situation under control.

"If I were worried, I wouldn't come here to buy meat. I believe it has been quarantined," said the man, who gave his surname as Zhang.

The first new case in Beijing after two months - who had no recent travel history outside the city - was reported on Thursday.

China reported 11 new COVID-19 cases and seven asymptomatic cases for Friday, the national health authority said on Saturday.

Five of the new confirmed patients were imported cases involving travellers from overseas, with the remaining six locally transmitted cases all in Beijing.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in China now stands at 83,075, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

China does not count asymptomatic patients, who are infected with the virus but do not display symptoms, as confirmed cases.

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Source: Reuters/AFP/aj

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