Fresh coronavirus outbreak in Beijing linked to food market leads to lockdown, school closures and quarantine

While scanning the market for coronavirus, China said it found samples on chopping boards used for imported salmon, leading to speculations that the virus came from Europe or the US


                            Fresh coronavirus outbreak in Beijing linked to food market leads to lockdown, school closures and quarantine
(Getty Images)

Declared free of Covid-19, Beijing's success did not last long. A cluster of cases has emerged with links to a food market. The turn of events prompted China to label the situation "extremely severe". Now, authorities have sealed the city partially, shuttered schools, and forced residents into quarantine, according to reports.

“The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe. Right now, we have to take strict measures to stop the spread of Covid-19," Xu Hejian, Beijing city spokesman, warned during a press conference. The outbreak may have emerged from the Xinfadi wholesale food market, which is dubbed the vegetable basket of the city. According to China's National Health Commission, Beijing confirmed 79 infections in four days, as of June 16. On the whole, authorities have traced 106 cases to the food market, which had more than 200,000 visits since May 30.

The outbreak prompted China to place the city under a partial lockdown. They asked people to avoid "non-essential travel" as they shut schools. Chen Bei, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing municipal government, said they are encouraging people to work from home but are ordering factories to close. All travelers entering and leaving the city, he added.

Authorities have listed an area around the market as high-risk and 27 other places as medium-risk regions. According to reports, people residing in the former will not be allowed to step out and will be tested for Covid-19. As for the latter, authorities said they would screen people setting foot in the area.

People are being tested at an outdoor sports center on June 15, 2020, in Beijing. (Getty Images)

China said more than 8,000 workers from the market have been tested and sent to quarantine facilities. According to a video shared by a human rights activist named Jennifer Zeng, some residents are being packed into buses. She tweeted, "People from Xinfadi, Beijing rounded up for quarantine, probably on June 14, after new #CCPvirus outbreak. It took a whole day to take all those people away".

“The measures in Beijing are timely and effective. Those who are infected might show symptoms in the coming two days. If the number of reported cases does not increase much, it can be said the epidemic has stabilized at such a scale,” Wu Zunyou, a chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, reportedly told state broadcaster CCTV on Monday night.

Origins of new outbreak

While scanning the market for coronavirus, China said it found samples on chopping boards used for imported salmon, leading to speculations that the virus came from Europe or the US. Further, Zunyou added that the strain was similar to those found in Europe, the US, or Russia. “It clearly indicates the virus strain is different from what it was two months ago,” he told state broadcaster CGTN. “The virus strain is the major epidemic strain in European countries. So it is from outside China brought to Beijing.”
 
However, the authorities said it was unlikely that a fish carried the virus to Beijing, and contaminated packaging may have been the source. “The fish themselves are not likely to be infected. But there’s packing and whatnot that can get contaminated with the virus,” Malik Peiris, a virology professor at the University of Hong Kong, told South China Morning Post.
 
Others think cross-contamination could be more likely.  “I think a more likely source is an unrecognized infection that occurred in a person from another part of the country traveling to Beijing and infection was then able to spread in Beijing,” added Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.

For more information and statistics on the coronavirus pandemic, click on the Newsbreak tracker here