On Monday, authorities announced that Beijing would conduct mass testing for most of its 21 million residents, as the outbreak of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, led to food hoarding by residents worried about the possibility of a Shanghai-style lockdown.
The Chinese capital has begun mass testing of people in one of its 16 provinces where the most new cases have been found. The city has also imposed closures on individual apartment buildings and one section of the city. Late in the day, health officials said testing will be expanded Tuesday to all but five of the outlying areas.
While only 70 cases have been found since the outbreak emerged on Friday, authorities have taken strict measures under China’s “zero COVID” approach to try to prevent the virus from spreading further.
Some residents worked from home and many stockpiled food as a safeguard against possible confinement indoors, as has happened in many cities, including the financial center of Shanghai. The city of Anyang in central China and Dandong on the border with North Korea have become the latest to start lockdowns as the omicron variable spreads across the vast country of 1.4 billion people.
Shanghai, which closed over two weeks agoit reported more than 19,000 new infections and 51 deaths in the last 24 hours, which led to a high reported death toll From persistent outbreak to 138.
Beijingers snapped up rice, noodles, vegetables and other food items as long lines piled up in supermarkets and shop workers hurriedly restocked some empty shelves. State media reported that supplies remained plentiful despite increased purchases.
Shoppers looked worried but didn’t panic yet. A woman, carrying two bags of vegetables, eggs and frozen dumplings, said she was buying a little more than usual. A man said he is not worried but is just being careful because he has a 2-year-old daughter.
Beijing health officials said 29 new cases were identified in the 24 hours to 4 p.m. Monday, bringing the total to 70 since Friday.
The city has ordered mass testing in the sprawling Chaoyang District, where 46 cases were found. Chaoyang’s 3.5 million residents, as well as people who work in the area, need to be tested on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Overnight and early morning testing sites have been set up in Chaoyang District in apartment complexes and office buildings around the area. Residents and workers lined up at makeshift outstations for a quick swab of the throat by a worker in full protective gear. The test is free.
“I think Beijing should be fine,” Gao Haiyang said while waiting on the line for a COVID-19 test. “Based on the previous response given by my community, if there is any emergency, I think the supply can be assured. Plus there are lessons learned from other cities. I think we can make good preparations.”
Shanghai has been hit by a strict lockdown that has prompted residents to band together to deliver food through group buying. It subsidized goods in the port of Shanghai, affecting supplies and factory production and hampering economic growth.
Beijing has locked down residents in an area of about 2 x 3 kilometers (1 x 2 mi), requiring them to work from home and stay in their apartment complexes. It wasn’t a complete shutdown but cinemas, karaoke bars and other entertainment venues were closed.
Elsewhere, the city also closed some or all of the buildings in five apartment complexes, plus others that were closed on Sunday.
Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang and researcher Yu Ping contributed to this report.
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