The authorities in Beijing placed a swath of the city under lockdown on Monday and tested tens of thousands of people as they rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak that marked an unnerving breach in China’s capital.
President Xi Jinping had said from the outset that Beijing, the seat of Communist Party power and a crowded metropolis, should be a fortress against the pandemic, and local officials have imposed strict measures to keep infections low. Until now, the efforts appeared to have protected the capital against the virus after it emerged late last year in Wuhan, a city in central China.
While the dozens of new cases in Beijing seem slight compared to the hundreds and even thousands of infections reported daily in other countries, the fresh outbreak has jolted China, prompting the government to fire local officials and reinstate some recently relaxed restrictions. The resurgence of cases points to the challenges that governments around the world face as they reopen economies while the virus persists.
“We feel this is dangerous,” Chen Xiaoxi, the owner of a shop about two miles from a market linked to the new outbreak, said by telephone. He said he was awaiting the results of a nucleic acid test to check if he had the virus. “It is a worry; everyone is worried. This is no ordinary disease. We’re waiting at home and can’t go out.”
The city government said on Monday it had tracked down 79 coronavirus infections over the previous four days, including 36 confirmed on Sunday. Virtually all appeared ultimately traceable to the vast, bustling Xinfadi food market in the south of Beijing.
Later in the day, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, told a news conference that “more than 100 cases have now been confirmed” in the Beijing flare-up.
Mr. Xi, who is also the leader of the ruling Communist Party, has not commented publicly on the latest cases, but he previously stressed the importance of controlling outbreaks in Beijing, as well as Wuhan.
“The safety and stability of the capital directly concerns the broader outlook for the party and the country,” he said in February when giving orders about the epidemic.
Some Chinese disease control experts said Beijing appeared to respond to the outbreak quickly. Even so, this failure in the capital’s defenses appeared to rile Mr. Xi’s subordinates. Two local officials and the general manager of the Xinfadi market were dismissed on Sunday for what the city leadership said was a failure to move quickly enough against the infections. A vice premier warned that the outbreak could widen.
“The market is densely packed with many moving around, and the risks are high that the outbreak will spread,” Sun Chunlan, a vice premier overseeing health policy, said at a meeting on Sunday, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. “Take firm and decisive measures to thoroughly prevent its spread.”
Until this outbreak, Beijing had gone 56 days without new locally acquired cases. Officials were mainly concerned that the virus would be carried in by Chinese people returning to the city from abroad.
By the end of Sunday, Beijing had recorded a total 499 cases of officially confirmed coronavirus infection since the epidemic began in late 2019, including nine deaths.
A scattering of new infections outside Beijing appeared linked to the upsurge in the city. Sichuan Province in southwest China said a woman who recently arrived there was infected, probably through her husband in Beijing who was infected. Hebei Province next to Beijing reported four new cases connected to infections in the capital. Liaoning Province in the northeast also said two cases there were connected to the Beijing infections.
To stifle the new outbreak, the government has brought out a playbook of policies and restrictions honed during China’s nationwide battle against the epidemic.
The authorities shut down and sealed the market over the weekend. City officials were testing 90,000 residents from neighborhoods around the Xinfadi market and another market suspected of a role in the infections, the government said Monday. Residential compounds in those neighborhoods have been sealed, and the authorities were racing to track down and isolate anyone who has been infected. The area is home to many migrant workers from elsewhere in China.
Beijing city authorities announced on Monday that neighborhoods across the rest of the city would also step up checks, requiring round-the-clock manning of entrances, temperature checks and expanded disinfection. The government banned restaurants from holding wedding banquets and other large gatherings.
Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the Beijing government, said at a news conference on Monday: “We must fully grasp that epidemic containment in the capital is long-term, complex and arduous.”
By Sunday afternoon, 111 people had been ordered into supervised isolation in the Fengtai District, the area of southern Beijing that includes the market, because of their possible contact with infected people. The government said it had requisitioned rooms in 11 hotels to hold people.
Eleven residential areas near the Xinfadi market were placed under strict guard over the weekend to prevent visitors from entering and most residents from leaving. Officials said that students across Beijing in grades that have resumed classes could choose to stay at home if they wished.
Residents near the market described being tested for the virus by medical workers who took throat swabs. One resident, who gave only his surname, Cao, said he was worried that the virus could spread among residents like him as they milled around apartment compounds, waiting to be tested.
While Communist Party leaders appeared to treat the outbreak as almost an embarrassing affront, epidemic experts sought to reassure the public. They said that like other countries, China should get used to the idea that outbreaks were likely even as overall infection rates fell.
“Beijing won’t become a second Wuhan,” Zeng Guang, a senior epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted as saying by the Beijing Daily, the city’s main official newspaper. “Don’t be overwrought. Heed the government’s orders and trust the disease control workers and doctors.”
Still, the burst of cases in Beijing is worrisome because it has been traced to the city’s main food market, where in normal times thousands of traders, suppliers and workers from beyond Beijing jostle with buyers from across the city.
Usually, Xinfadi supplies about 70 percent of the fresh vegetables consumed in Beijing and 10 percent of its pork, a city official said last week. On Monday, officials said that 200,000 people had visited the market since May 30, though that estimate may have included repeat visits.
Updated June 12, 2020
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.
How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.
My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
“The good news is that all the cases are linked to the Xinfadi market, and there have not been cases without a route of transmission,” Zhang Wenhong, a medical expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, said in an online comment on Sunday.
“The bad news is that the capacity of Xinfadi market is astounding, and it’s unclear where a new flash point will emerge,” wrote Dr. Zhang, who has become a prominent voice in Chinese epidemic policymaking.
The infections raise the risk of further cases in shops and restaurants where the food ends up. City officials have rushed to assure residents that other markets will step up their supplies of food.
The customers at Xinfadi include many retail shoppers, especially retirees, who travel far to the market for its varied, cheap produce. The city government ordered anyone who went there recently to report to the authorities.
The government’s aggressive tracing efforts have already indicated that the coronavirus spread among vendors and workers at the market, as well as some people who had shopped there.
As of Monday, however, experts still had not said how the virus arrived in the market. The city government said that traces of the virus turned up on surfaces in the market, including on cutting boards for salmon. The finding brought about unproven theories that the virus was carried on the salmon or workers who handled it, and supermarket chains in the city threw out their stocks of salmon, according to local news reports.
But Wu Zunyou, an investigator from the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said on a government website on Sunday that it would take more time and testing to pin down the source. Many of the first infections in Wuhan late last year were linked to a market that sold seafood and wild game, but officials have yet to say publicly how the virus spread in that market.
Dr. Zhang, the Shanghai expert, said the outbreak in Beijing was a lesson in what Chinese citizens would have to get used to.
“‘Near-zero cases’ will be the normal for China’s epidemic prevention,” he wrote. “I hope that society will adapt to this new normal as soon as possible.”
Amber Wang contributed research.