A temporary nucleic acid sampling station in Fengtai District in southwest Beijing on June 15 (XINHUA)
"It's safe to say that Beijing's recent epidemic situation has been controlled," Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on June 18, seven days after one new locally transmitted case was reported in China's capital.
From June 11 to 18, 183 domestically transmitted novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases were confirmed, with 95.7 percent of these cases showing only mild symptoms, according to data released by the Beijing Leading Group for Prevention and Control of COVID-19 on June 18. These new infections came not long after the capital had begun to relax control with no new cases reported for more than 50 days in a row.
Wu added that investigations showed that all the recent cases in the capital are directly or indirectly linked to the Xinfadi wholesale market in Fengtai District in southwest Beijing. The first new infection was traced to the seafood section of Xinfadi, the biggest market of its kind in the capital, selling 90 percent of the farm produce consumed in the city.
Workers unload watermelons in a temporary market in Beijing on June 14. Such markets have been set up to provide options with the Xinfadi wholesale market closed (XINHUA)
The market was sealed early on June 13. The 8,000 business people and workers there received nucleic acid tests within 24 hours of the closure and were put under medical observation.
On June 16, Beijing raised its public health emergency alert from the third to the second level, just 10 days after it had been lowered, and stringent epidemic control measures were reintroduced.
Targeted epidemic control and prevention measures are being taken. Different sub-districts of Beijing have been categorized into high-, medium- and low-risk areas, with different epidemic control and prevention measures imposed.
People belonging to three categories are not allowed to leave Beijing. The first category includes confirmed COVID-19 patients, suspected cases, close contacts, asymptomatic carriers and people with fever. The second covers those who have visited the Xinfadi market or had close contact with relevant staff since May 30. The third includes people living in medium- and high-risk areas.
Other personnel should avoid unessential travels outside Beijing. A negative nucleic acid test certificate issued within the past seven days is a must for those who really need to leave the city.
Extensive epidemiological investigations, door-to-door inquiries and mass nucleic acid tests are underway.
Xia Yuanyuan, a 31-year-old journalist who lives in Fengtai, went to the market on June 7. She, along with others that worked there or lived nearby or visited the market after May 30, was required to take a nucleic acid test to determine if they had contracted COVID-19. Xia received phones calls and text messages from the local governments of both the districts where she lives and where she works, urging her to self-quarantine and take the test. "The Beijing Municipal Government is really careful," she told Beijing Review.
On June 15, Xia took the test and was given the result in 48 hours. "I feel secure in the knowledge that it's negative," she said. Despite the result being negative, Xia will remain in isolation under observation for two weeks.
Some 356,000 residents were tested in Beijing in five days, according to the Beijing Leading Group for Prevention and Control of COVID-19 on June 17.
In Beijing, 98 hospitals and institutions are doing nucleic acid tests. The municipal government has also set up temporary sample collecting booths in different areas. By June 17, they had the capability to collect 400,000 samples daily and test more than 90,000 samples. "The testing capability will be increased in the next few days," said Zhang Qiang, deputy chief of the Beijing Leading Group for Prevention and Control of COVID-19 on June 17.
Besides Xinfadi, a few other smaller markets visited by people with confirmed infections were sealed off. By June 16, 276 farm produce markets had been disinfected, Chen Yankai, Deputy Director of the Beijing Municipal Market Supervision Bureau, told a press conference on June 16. In addition, over 33,000 catering service providers had also been disinfected, Chen added.
In addition, schools have been closed, and mass gatherings and non-essential trips canceled. Staggered work time and telecommuting are being encouraged once more. All interprovincial bus lines operated by Beijing's carriers were suspended starting from June 19. Most flights into and out of Beijing have been canceled.
Not Wuhan 2.0
The new outbreak, according to preliminary assessment, was caused by human-to-human transmission, contaminated articles and a contaminated environment.
Wang Guiqiang, head of the Infectious Diseases Department of Peking University First Hospital (PUFH), told Beijing-based China News Service that the transmission of the virus in Xinfadi means besides guarding against inbound infected persons, "we should also guard against imported goods."
Beijing will scale up its examination and quarantine of imported foods. The quarantine standard for imported foods and mechanism to trace food sources will be improved, Chen Bei, Deputy General Secretary of the Beijing Municipal Government, said at a briefing on June 16.
"Beijing will not become a second Wuhan," said Wang Guangfa, head of the Division of Respiratory Medicine and Critical Care Medicine, PUFH. Wang told ThePaper.cn, a Shanghai-based news website, that although there are some similarities between the Beijing cluster and the Wuhan outbreak, Beijing residents' capability to detect the virus and prevent and control an epidemic has greatly improved. "The containment experience in the early stage taught us a salutary lesson," he said.
Xia, who lives and works in Beijing, is not worried about the new clusters. "We went through an outbreak months ago. We are both alert to the virus and experienced in dealing with it. We will tide over this wave," she told Beijing Review.
Still the authorities have maintained all-out efforts to address all eventualities. "It's possible that cases will continue to pop up here and there in the capital for a period of time," Wu said on June 18. "Only when there is no new domestically transmitted case for two months, like it used to be, can we lower the public health emergency response level in Beijing." To ensure that, he said all possible draconian measures are being taken to guard against the virus.
(Print Edition Title: Beijing Raises Its Guard)
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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