BEIJING: The city of Beijing on Thursday declared an initial victory in its latest battle with COVID-19 after testing millions of people and quarantining thousands in the past week to stem an outbreak prolonged by a sudden wave of cases linked to a bar.
The flare-up at the popular Heaven Supermarket Bar known for its cheap liquor and rowdy nights emerged just days after the Chinese capital started to lift widespread curbs. Restrictions had been in place for around a month in Beijing to tackle a broader outbreak that began in late April.
The surge since June 9 is very modest by global standards, with a total of 351 cases found so far, but reflects how challenging it is, with the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, for China to make a success out of its strategy of stamping out each cluster of cases as soon as it materialises.
“After eight days of hard fighting and the concerted efforts of Beijing residents in the battle, the swift and decisive measures have shown their effect,” Beijing city government spokesperson Xu Hejian said.
“The Heaven Supermarket bar outbreak is easing, but the possibility of hidden infections in communities still exists,” Xu told a news briefing.
Beijing authorities have launched criminal probes into individuals who ventured out during their at-home isolation period and later tested positive. They have suspended businesses that failed to properly implement COVID prevention rules, and vowed to tighten inspection of various businesses, which have been told to check their clients and customers’ body temperature and digital health credentials.
Boon to Beijing
An easing in the flare-up in infections that started late last week would be a boon to Beijing’s residents and economy.
The broader outbreak, lasting more than 50 days and counting, has disrupted the city’s commerce and industry and bruised retail spending.
Beijing’s return to a more regular COVID prevention regime - regular testing by individuals and targeted lockdowns of affected buildings rather than days of mass testing and restrictions on movement in entire districts - would calm worries of a more severe disruption, as seen during Shanghai’s lockdown.
Shanghai’s descent into a two-month hard lockdown, finally lifted on June 1, and Beijing’s tough COVID curbs, in addition to varying degrees of restrictions imposed by tens of Chinese cities, have unnerved global markets and stoked fears of supply chain disruptions arising from China.
Official data on Wednesday suggested activity in the world’s second-largest economy is beginning to pick up again in some sectors after widespread lockdowns in April and May.
But most private economists believe China’s economy contracted in April-June, after growing 4.8% in the first three months.