BEIJING - Beijing’s rate of infection has peaked, said the country’s chief virologist, even as the authorities are testing hundreds of thousands of people in the capital for Covid-19.
“The situation is now under control,” said Dr Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, at a daily briefing on Thursday (June 18).
“We will still see more cases over the coming days, but these are cases uncovered from an earlier infection period, not cases of new infections. The numbers will come down.”
Beijing reported 21 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, all of whom were infected before June 12, said Dr Wu.
He added that the peak of the outbreak was June 13.
Since the first case emerged last Thursday, there have been 158 infections reported in the city, all linked to the Xinfadi wholesale food market in southwestern Fengtai district.
The market - the biggest in Beijing and accounting for nearly 90 per cent of its fruit and vegetable supplies - was shut on Saturday while health workers collected thousands of samples to be tested.
Traces of the coronavirus were discovered on a chopping board used for imported salmon, triggering restaurants and supermarkets to pull salmon off their menus and shelves.
The virus has spread among restaurant workers, said officials. Seven people working at one restaurant fell ill after a chef went to Xinfadi to pick up supplies and later infected his colleagues in the dormitory where they all live.
Since last week’s outbreak, Beijing has been aggressively testing anyone linked to the market as well as those who live around it, in a bid to find and isolate those infected.
Over 350,000 people have been tested since Saturday and as many remain yet to be tested, said city officials on Wednesday. Authorities have also ordered restaurants to send their workers for testing, as the city tries to ramp up its testing capacity, which currently stands at 90,000 people a day.
More than 200,000 people have visited Xinfadi since May 30, officials said.
On Thursday, Beijing’s national museum became the first museum in the country to require visitors to take a nucleic acid test before being allowed entry.
The government has also mandated that those travelling out of Beijing have to get tested, leading to long queues at the 100 hospitals and clinics that provide this service.
These tougher measures kicked in on Tuesday night, after the city elevated emergency response level to 2, the second highest of four levels, barely two weeks after it had been lowered.
Schools have been suspended while neighbourhoods near the market have been placed under lockdown.
Transport authorities have also capped the number of passengers on the city’s buses and subway trains at 90 and 80 per cent of their respective capacities.
Parks and museums have also limited visitors to 30 per cent.
Sellers on popular e-commerce platforms like Taobao have suspended shipments to Beijing while restaurants and bars have been ordered to reduce their operating hours.
The drastic measures taken by the capital city have triggered fears that it may eventually move to full lockdown, but officials have dismissed that notion.
Experts say Beijing’s largely confined outbreak means that infection numbers will not balloon.
The government is keen to keep the city of 20 million - the country’s heart and political centre - running after the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan brought Beijing’s economy to a standstill.
A Beijing public security bureau spokesman said on Thursday that the capital was “not under lockdown”, but was implementing “targeted control” of people’s movement to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.
Professor Yang Zhanqiu of the Institute of Virology at Wuhan University told the Global Times that Beijing’s infection numbers may not exceed a thousand.
“Unlike Wuhan, Beijing’s situation has clear traceability and the source of infection comes from the market. Beijing has taken steps to isolate people who have come into contact with the market,” he said.