Beijing covid eruption leads to grocery store, fear of lockdown

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Panicked residents of Beijing stockpiled food and supplies and cleared out grocery store shelves as fears of a severe shutdown of the Chinese capital spread after authorities on Sunday announced mass tests to contain a small cluster of new coronavirus cases.

Beijing officials have reported 70 cases of coronavirus since Friday in eight districts, most of which are in the city’s largest district, Chaoyang. The 3.4 million residents of Chaoyang were ordered to undergo three rounds of testing this week, advised to go home directly after work and to “reduce” social interactions.

On Monday night, authorities announced that a further 11 (out of a total of 16) districts in the capital would be tested this week.

Local news reports and videos showed road closures and apartment buildings cordoned off with metal fences as authorities imposed “targeted roadblocks” in neighborhoods that turned out to have positive cases. Long lines of residents waiting to be tested could be seen throughout the Chaoyang district.

Concerned about the restrictions and the mass testing heralds a sudden city-wide shutdown similar to Shanghai, residents quickly began to panic buying goods for an extended quarantine.

The extreme measures taken in response to relatively few cases reflect the government’s concern over the more transferable omicron variant, which has broken through China’s strict border controls and quarantine measures and tested its previously praised handling of the pandemic.

Officials in Beijing are under even more pressure to ensure that the politically important city does not become a repeat of Shanghai’s shutdown, marred by food shortages, clashes with authorities and sizzling citizens who vent their frustration both on- and offline.

Shanghai covid siege: Food shortages, talking robots, starving animals

Internet users posted pictures of empty grocery stores in Beijing as supplies of eggs, vegetables and meat ran out. Wumart supermarkets extended opening hours, while food and grocery delivery platforms added delivery times.

Online shopping platforms like Meituan reported an increase in orders of as much as 50 percent since Sunday, while Beijing’s trade office on Sunday urged platforms selling fresh produce to increase their inventory and delivery manpower.

Yang Beibei, deputy chief of the Chaoyang district, tried to reassure citizens that supplies would not run out. “Our supplies and reserves are quite adequate. Please everyone, don’t worry,” she said.

Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, urged residents not to travel to the upcoming Labor Day holiday on May 1 and to live a “simple life” and avoid group meals and gatherings.

“The situation is still serious,” she said. “Stay calm and do not panic. Do not spread or believe rumors. Let us work together to defeat the virus.”

Officials said more than 2,000 close contacts in Chaoyang had been identified and that more than 14 areas were now located under “closed management”, with residents barred from leaving their homes. Pang said Sunday that the virus had spread “smoothly and quickly” for a week. About a quarter of the registered patients were 60 years or older, and only half of them had been vaccinated.

China’s National Health Commission on Monday reported 20,200 new cases across the country, as well as 51 new deaths in Shanghai.

Chinese authorities have stuck to the country’s “dynamic clearing” coronavirus policy in light of growing public frustration over controls that prevent people from going to work or accessing the medical system normally. The policy, which is closely linked to the decision-making of Chinese top executive Xi Jinping, has become a political necessity.

Cai Qi, the Communist Party’s secretary for Beijing, said on Saturday that the city should be “strictly on guard.” “All departments and units at all levels must take the most crucial measures” to block the transmission chain.

Residents in Shanghai advised online their colleagues in Beijing on how to survive an indefinite quarantine at home, including bartering with neighbors, apps to entertain children at home, and a list of things to take with them if sent to a quarantine center.

When shopping with neighbors, cola has more purchasing power than Pepsi, an internet user advised. In Shanghai, soda has been one of many coveted ingredients.

An Internet user posted a picture of a speaker, an ax and a pair of pliers – tools for residents to be heard from their windows or cut through fences set up outside their homes – that “friends in Beijing might consider.”

Another joke circulating online on Monday said: “Shanghai was locked down and waiting for supplies. Beijing has filled up and is waiting for a lockdown.”

Lyric Li of Seoul and Pei-Lin Wu and Vic Chiang of Taipei contributed to this report.

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