China’s capital Beijing steps up Covid-19 measures as outbreak persists

Medical staff walk at a nucleic acid testing site in Beijing, on Jan 18, 2021.
Medical staff walk at a nucleic acid testing site in Beijing, on Jan 18, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - A partial lockdown was imposed on the Chinese capital Wednesday (Jan 20), with 1.6 million residents banned from leaving Beijing, after a handful of cases were detected.

Seven cases were reported in the city, including six in southern Daxing district.  All 1.6 million residents of Daxing must not leave Beijing unless they have received special permission from the authorities and tested negative for Covid-19 in the past three days, the district said.

Meetings of 50 or more people in the district have been banned, while “weddings should be postponed and funerals simplified,” the district government said.

It also ordered all kindergarten, primary and secondary students in the district to study at home.

The measures come amid what has become the country's most severe Covid-19 outbreak since March 2020 ahead of the key Chinese Lunar New Year holiday season, when hundreds of millions travel, raising fears of another major Covid-19 wave that could bring the country back into a debilitating standstill.

The National Health Commission said in a separate statement on Wednesday that a total of 103 new Covid-19 cases were reported on Jan 19, down from 118 a day earlier.

North-eastern Jilin province reported 46 new cases, however, setting another record in daily cases, while Hebei province surrounding Beijing reported 19 new cases.

Beijing reported seven new cases, matching the total reported on Dec 28. Of these new patients, six patients live in Daxing district and the city's subway operator said it shut down the Tiangong Yuan metro station located nearby the Daxing patients as part of Covid-19 prevention measures.

Residents of five Daxing neighbourhoods where the cases were detected were ordered to remain indoors.

Daxing includes one of the city’s two international airports.

Communist Party-backed Beijing Daily said the capital’s party and government leadership met late Tuesday and agreed to further tighten monitoring, minimise public gatherings and reduce passenger loads in public transport. 

China has opted to let local governments choose their own tactics to battle the latest outbreaks, an approach that avoids the kinds of widespread shutdowns during the height of the epidemic in 2020. 

Local authorities in north-east China, where most of the new cases are located, have employed a combination of measures including lockdowns, travel curbs and mass testing.

Tens of millions have been put into home or centralised quarantine in Hebei, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces. 

Songyuan city in Jilin on Wednesday ordered a lockdown for the main urban area under its jurisdiction and began mass testing.

Harbin, the provincial capital of Heilongjiang province, has temporarily shut down businesses and public venues such as gyms, coffee shops, karaokes and religious institutions. 

One communist party official in a village in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, was suspended for mistreatment of a man who tried to enter the village to buy cigarettes against orders to turn back.

The man was tied to a tree and verbally abused under the party official’s directions. 

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 58 from 91 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 88,557, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.

The figures exclude cases reported in Hong Kong and Macau, which are Chinese territories but independently report their data.

The commission also excludes cases reported in Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.