Beijing authorities have described the city’s coronavirus outbreak as “extremely severe” as dozens more cases emerged, sports and entertainment sites were closed and travel was curtailed.
Parts of the Chinese capital were fenced off on Monday night, with security checkpoints set up at residential compounds, and high-risk people, such as close contacts of diagnosed cases, have been prevented from leaving the city.
More than 20 Beijing neighbourhoods have now been designated medium risk, Reuters reported, and health authorities said on Tuesday that sealed-off residences and people in quarantine would have food and medicine delivered to them.
“The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe,” Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian warned at a press conference. “Right now we have to take strict measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.”
On Monday, all indoor sport and entertainment venues in the city were closed. Coaches and players from the Beijing Super League football team, Guoan, have been tested and given a week off because their training camp was in the same district as the outbreak source, local media reported.
The outbreak – linked to 106 cases, including 27 reported on Tuesday – has been traced to a wholesale food market in south-west Beijing that sells thousands of tonnes of food a day and which had been visited by more than 200,000 people since 30 May.
Provinces as far away as Yunnan in the south have brought in rules requiring quarantine for people returning from Beijing. Shanghai authorities announced that all arrivals from medium– and high-risk areas have to undergo 14 days of quarantine.
More than 8,000 workers from the market have now been tested and sent to centralised quarantine facilities, and other Beijing wet markets, basement markets and more than 30,000 restaurants are being disinfected.
It is the most significant outbreak in China since February, prompting fears of a second wave. Beijing had reported no new cases for 56 consecutive days before a cluster of diagnoses began on Thursday.
Health authorities have entered what state media termed “wartime mode” in response.
More than 76,000 nearby residents were tested on Sunday across almost 300 testing points, authorities said, and strict measures have been put in place, including school closures, and transport suspensions, including ride-sharing and taxi services.
Since the first case of the virus was detected last year in the city of Wuhan, China has reported more than 84,000 cases and more than 4,600 people have died. Globally, more than 8 million cases have been recorded, and 436,000 deaths. The US is the worst-hit country, with more than two million cases.
Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told state media he believed the new Beijing outbreak to be of a more contagious strain than the one that hit Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, said he expected Chinese authorities to publish the genetic sequencing of the virus in Beijing and supported their efforts so far. “A cluster like this is a concern and it needs to be investigated and controlled – and that is exactly what the Chinese authorities are doing,” he said.
On Monday, researchers said they were still investigating the origins of the new outbreak, with some suggesting it had come from overseas.
State-run newspapers reported that the virus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon at Beijing’s Xinfadi market amid worries about a second wave of the pandemic in China.
Ryan said in a briefing that he would be “reticent” to say that packaging needs to be tested as a result of the new infections. His comments echoed those of experts earlier on Monday who said the fish itself was unlikely to carry the disease and any link to salmon may have been the result of cross-contamination.
Chinese officials and state media were quick to defend the country amid fears that the outbreak marked a possible second wave.
“Control measures have been in place in communities, three officials accountable were dismissed,” said editor in chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin. “US politicians will likely see a miracle that Beijing can have zero new cases in a month.”
Three officials were dismissed over the outbreak, including the head of the Xinfadi market, the local subdistrict Communist Party chief, and the deputy head of the district, the Global Times reported. Previous sackings of officials over outbreaks, including at a residential complex in Wuhan, have prompted concern that it could encourage coverups of outbreaks.
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang and agencies