HONG KONG -- A new COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing is raising fears that China’s capital could be sent into a hard lockdown, like the one in Shanghai that’s entering a fifth week.
Beijing residents are stocking up and clearing shelves, despite authorities telling residents there are enough supplies to go around.
About 3.5 million residents in Beijing’s affluent Chaoyang district, which includes the central business district, will have to undergo mandatory mass testing three times this week to contain a spike in cases, with 70 infections reported citywide there since Friday.
China's daily cases rose 4% to 20,194 on Monday, most of them in Shanghai. The city has now recorded 506,000 infections since the start of March.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has put his personal stamp on China’s "Zero Covid" strategy, defended his government's approach as recently as last Thursday, when he delivered a keynote speech via video to the Boao Forum for Asia, China's answer to the Davos forum.
“Safety and health are the prerequisite for human development and progress. For humanity to clinch the final victory against the Covid-19 pandemic, more hard efforts are needed,” he said.
The Chinese leader has made it clear before that he wants to keep the capital city COVID-free. A lockdown in Beijing would add political strain to a strategy of which the economic and social costs are growing by the day.
Chinese stocks dropped to the lowest levels in two years Monday over fears of more curbs to the nation's capital.
Beijing’s Communist Party Secretary Cai Qi was quoted in Beijing Daily newspaper on Sunday as saying, “Important pandemic measures cannot be left waiting till the next day ... all at-risk sites and individuals involved in these cases must be checked that day."
Chinese health official Pang Xinghuo said on Sunday that cases have been spreading undetected in the city for about a week.
Health workers in Shanghai put up green metal barriers this weekend in some areas where cases are detected. In a notice circulated on Chinese social media, the epidemic control office for the Pudong New Area in Shanghai Authorities referred to this method as "hard isolation," which is meant to provide a physical barrier between areas with different risk factors and keep the roads clear.
Shanghai reported 51 more deaths on Monday, prompting another round of mass testing for residents in the next few days.
Authorities had hoped to ease restrictions once social transmission was significantly reduced, but the measures have remained strict for most residents in the financial hub.