Beijing sees record new Covid-19 cases, reviving lockdown concerns

While the total is still low, the spike is one of the biggest since the outbreak started. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Beijing on Monday (May 23) reported a record number of Covid-19 cases during its current outbreak, reviving concern the Chinese capital may face a lockdown as authorities seek to stamp out community spread of the virus.

The city reported 99 cases for Sunday, up from 61 on Saturday. While the total is still low, the spike is one of the biggest since the outbreak started, with the case tally mostly hovering around 50 a day.

The growing outbreak in Beijing underscores the challenges China faces in following its Covid Zero approach, as the unprecedented shutdown of Shanghai sounded warnings to municipal authorities that any early mishandling of an outbreak could lead to a rapid spread of the virus.

China’s zero-tolerance strategy has become increasingly controversial in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, with the country left increasingly isolated from the rest of the world despite deploying harsh containment measures, even as officials look for ways to minimise the economic fallout. 

There were 802 infections reported nationwide for Sunday, from 824 on Saturday. That was the first time the tally was below 1,000 since March 9, and is down from a daily peak of almost 30,000 on April 13.

Shanghai reported 558 cases on Sunday, a decrease from 622 on Saturday. No new infections were found outside of government quarantine in the financial hub.  

Containing the outbreak has come at a crushing social and economic cost.

Millions of Shanghai residents have been confined to their homes for weeks, and even though the lockdown is easing, many restrictions remain in place. C

China’s ongoing pursuit of Covid Zero means the nation is likely to remain in a loop of lockdowns and swift hardline responses until the Communist Party congress later this year, where Presiding Xi Jinping is expected to secure an unprecedented third term in power.

Leaders have pledged financial support to reach the country’s growth targets and are weighing other measures to curtail the damage to its international reputation. 

Beijing is considering a reduction in the amount of time new arrivals to the city must spend in quarantine – a week in a hotel, down from two, plus a week at home – at the behest of international companies who have struggled to bring in expatriate workers, the South China Morning Post reported. 

While Shanghai’s flareup is coming under better control, the city has reported hundreds of deaths, mostly among unvaccinated elderly residents.

Only 62 per cent of people aged 60 or above have been fully vaccinated, a municipal health commission official said Monday. That’s below the national average of more than 80 per cent and is unchanged since mid-April, when the city was mired in its lockdown.

Health authorities are encouraging residents to get inoculated now that restrictions are easing and vaccine clinics are reopening. 

Shanghai authorities on Sunday laid out the criteria it would use to categorise parts of the city as low-risk for Covid-19 as they look to end a two-month long lockdown.

From June, districts that have not reported positive cases or community infections for 14 days will be defined as low-risk.

Residents in high- and medium-risk areas will be restricted to their homes and be required to take a PCR test daily for 14 days.

In Beijing, authorities on the weekend reiterated that residents in six areas, including the Chaoyang central business district and the Haidian technology hub, should work from home through May 28.

The city’s western Shijingshan district, the latest addition to the list, said all office areas and buildings will conduct closed-loop management and strictly control gatherings.  

Five districts, including the central Dongcheng district, are still reporting community spread of infections.

All residents of a large housing complex were sent to quarantine after 26 cases were discovered in the compound, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Saturday.

Over the weekend, police also detained executives from a Covid testing lab amid an ongoing probe into underreporting of testing results.  

The uptick in cases in the capital, and concerns about the severity of the response to tame the flareup, pushed China’s benchmark CSI 300 Index as much as 1.1 per cent lower in Monday’s morning session even as the broader Asian equity gauge traded slightly higher.

Elsewhere, the northern port city of Tianjin is racing to contain an Omicron flareup.

Mass testing over the weekend weeded out new cases, with signs of infections spreading from two districts to the downtown area of the city of 13.7 million residents.

An outbreak back in January disrupted supply chains for automakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG. 

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