Covid outbreak: Beijing plan to test 20 mln to avert Shanghai lockdown

Three-quarters of Beijing’s 22 million residents queued for COVID-19 testing as officials raced to contain a fledgling epidemic and avoid the crippling city-wide lockdown that has engulfed Shanghai for a month.

People in Beijing were stocking up on food and supplies after witnessing China’s business hub’s struggles to meet the basic demands of its increasingly disgruntled 25 million residents.

On social media, videos showed individuals leaning out of Shanghai windows, beating pots and pans in rage or playing “Do you hear the people sing?” on flutes and trumpets, a protest anthem from the musical “Les Miserables.”

By moving quickly, Beijing intended to avert such a saga.

On Monday morning, it began testing in Chaoyang, the city’s most populous area. By the evening, authorities had added ten more districts and one economic development zone to the list of necessary tests for this week, totaling 20 million individuals, 16 million of whom were due to be checked on Tuesday.

The directives were issued just days after scores of illnesses were discovered. Before commencing city-wide testing in early April, Shanghai waited roughly a month and more than 1,000 cases.

A Beijing cook, Liu Wentao, expressed alarm about the new outbreak but expressed confidence in the capital’s ability to handle it.

On his way to be tested, he added, “The virus controls are stronger than in other cities; I don’t think it will be like Shanghai.”

On April 25, Beijing reported 33 new COVID cases, up from 19 the day before, with no deaths reported in the outbreak so far. In comparison to Shanghai, where there are hundreds of thousands of cases, the total case load is negligible.

On Tuesday, Shanghai reported 52 new COVID deaths, compared to 51 the day before. The official death toll now stands at 190, with all of the deaths occurring from April 17 onwards. However, many residents have claimed that relatives or acquaintances died after contracting COVID as early as March, casting doubt on the figures.

Schools, stores, and workplaces remained open in the capital, but the famed Lama temple would be closed to tourists beginning Wednesday, and Beijing’s National Theater would be shuttered for the remainder of the month.

Officials have asked locals to stay in the capital and avoid gatherings during the forthcoming Labour Day vacations, which run from April 30 to May 4.

Residents, businesses, and financial markets all expressed concern about the economy, with Chinese equities languishing near two-year lows.

“There will be no income if we can’t go to work,” said Dewei, 31, who works at a small Chaoyang gym.

Any economic consequences of a shutdown in Beijing are likely to be less severe than those in Shanghai, China’s manufacturing capital and a vital link in national and worldwide supply chains.

“I believe it has less of an impact on firms in Beijing because most of these jobs can be done from home,” Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, told the media.

“There is less trucking involved, less packing involved, and less production involved.”

A twin Beijing-Shanghai shutdown, according to Hwabao Trust economist Nie Wen, might shave one percentage point off China’s economic production in the second quarter.

This would exacerbate geopolitical and real estate market headwinds in a crucial year for President Xi Jinping, who is generally anticipated to pursue a third term in office.

“Sealing off China’s capital would have substantial political ramifications,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., pointing to international reputation and social stability issues.

The stringent implementation of the regulations continued in Shanghai, but plans for a city-wide PCR testing exercise were hampered by earlier forecasts of hail and thunderstorms, which were ultimately downgraded to cloudy circumstances.

While officials claim to have eased some restrictions, the majority of residents are still confined to their houses or are unable to leave their residential compounds. Even those who are able to go out have limited options, as most stores and other places are closed.

Residents in locations where leaving the house is permitted were asked to do fast antigen tests on their own instead of waiting in line for PCR testing in the rain. Daily PCR testing were still required in the remainder of Shanghai.

Residents are straining to dispose of trash and run simple errands as a result of the protracted lockdown, which has fueled dissatisfaction about lost earnings, family separation, and quarantine conditions, as well as access to medical care and food.

The Shanghai government remained silent in the face of mounting anger.

New asymptomatic and symptomatic infections fell marginally to 15,319 and 1,661 cases, respectively, while cases outside confined zones remained unchanged at 217. When the number of such occurrences reached zero, other cities that had been on lockdown began to relax their restrictions.

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