Chinese capital Beijing to expand mass Covid-19 testing to more districts

A shopper leaves a supermarket with provisions as others wait in line to buy food supplies in Beijing on April 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Residents line up at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site during a mass testing in Beijing, China, on April 25, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
A customer leaving a supermarket in Beijing on April 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Municipal authorities in Beijing on Monday (April 25) ordered residents in 11 city districts to be tested for Covid-19 as they raced to snuff out what looked like a worsening outbreak.

All performances, mass events as well as sporting events in the city have been cancelled.

Tests were originally ordered only for the Chaoyang district – which includes the Central Business District, many embassies and headquarters of multinational companies – beginning on Monday, but city officials announced late on Monday night that this would be expanded to include virtually the entire Chinese capital.

Residents will have to be tested three times until Saturday. Only a handful of districts on the outskirts of the city are exempt.

News of the mass tests sparked panic buying, with Beijingers emptying supermarket shelves in anticipation of a lockdown in the city of 22 million.

Long snaking queues formed on Monday around temporary Covid-19 test booths around the city.

Some residents like entrepreneur Wang Yue, 41,  are prepared if things take a turn for the worse. She has been stocking up on rice, frozen food and other necessities since the pandemic began two years ago, and now has enough supplies for herself and her seven-year-old daughter for six months.

A raft of cases were reported in the Chaoyang district last Friday and the authorities ordered residents in housing estates surrounding a middle school, where the original batch of cases was discovered, to be confined at home.

At a press briefing on Monday, Beijing municipal authorities disclosed that 70 cases had been uncovered. China is battling its worst outbreak of Covid-19 since the pandemic began in late 2019.

Shanghai has been under lockdown since the start of this month, and the measure has largely left the financial hub crippled, with residents unable to leave their homes and struggling to get food supplies, basic necessities and medical care.

Those who have tested positive have been taken to spartan temporary isolation facilities, amid widely shared complaints about a lack of shower facilities or sanitary toilets.

The woes of Shanghai residents have fuelled fears in Beijing more than 1,000km away.

“I am not afraid of the virus. To me, it seems like it’s just like the flu. What I am more worried about are the excessive measures and policies that they put in place to control the virus,” said Ms Wang.

People queueing to enter a grocery store in Beijing on April 25, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Customers queueing at a supermarket in Beijing on April 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

After the initial batch of cases in Beijing was announced last Friday, Ms Wang said she immediately ordered more fresh leafy vegetables, as well as other root vegetables that can keep for longer, including lotus root and potatoes.

She also said she expected more restrictive measures in the capital because of the current “political environment”.

President Xi Jinping, who has extolled China’s ability to control Covid-19, has doubled down on the strict “dynamic zero” strategy aimed at stamping out all chains of infection.

Experts said the government’s stance has tied Mr Xi’s personal credibility to the success of the policy.

This is a sensitive year for the top Chinese leader as he is widely expected to seek an unprecedented third term in power later this year.

The authorities have given the assurance that there would be ample supplies of food and other necessities in the capital, but residents on Monday were not taking chances.

Many supermarket shelves were left empty. At one supermarket in downtown Beijing, shoppers were grabbing vegetables from shipping crates even before staff could stack them onto the shelves.

Customers shopping for instant noodles at a supermarket in Beijing on April 25, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Near-empty shelves at a supermarket in Beijing on April 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

“A lot of my friends in Shanghai have told me to stock up and not be as foolish as them to believe what the government says,” said Beijing office worker Nie Yanjie, 46.

Apart from food, she stocked up on other items such as toothpaste, shampoo and toilet paper.

“If we are really locked up at home, I just hope to be able to live with dignity and without fear. With these supplies at home, I can at least give myself and my family some peace and stability,” said Ms Nie.

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