Beijing's 'wholesale aircraft carrier' Xinfadi market, under the microscope for COVID-19 risks

By Wan Lin Published: 2020/6/16 0:59:41


After four consecutive days of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 being reported among staff and visitors to the Xinfadi food market in Beijing, the so called "wholesale aircraft carrier" has caused widespread public concern over the high risk the distribution center poses to the city and even the country due to its high volume of traffic, mobility of people and connections to other places in China.

From Friday to Monday, Beijing reported 79 COVID-19 cases, most have been confirmed to be linked to the Xinfadi Market, while certain recent cases reported in Northeast China's Liaoning Province and neighboring Hebei Province were also found to be close contacts of patients in Beijing. 

Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan warned at a meeting on Sunday that the risk of further spread in Beijing is very high as the market is densely populated and highly mobile. 

Sun urged officials to take resolute and decisive measures to effectively prevent the spread of the epidemic in the capital, noting that the market and surrounding areas should be made a priority in conducting epidemiological investigations and carrying out in-depth and comprehensive source tracing.

Located in Southwest Beijing's Fengtai district, the market covers an area of 112 hectares with 1,500 administrative staff, 2,000 vendors and more than 4,000 fixed-addressed clients, according to Xinfadi's official website.

It shows that the market sells seafood, vegetables, fruits, meat and other products. It trades more than 1,500 tons of seafood, 18,000 tons of vegetables, 20,000 tons of fruits on an average day. 

The large trade volume and turnover has made Xinfadi the biggest agricultural products wholesale market in China, and its wide variety of products have also made it one of the most popular sites in the city. 

"Shopping at Xinfadi in the morning has become a part of my daily schedule for decades. But I generally only go to a few specific venders because the market is so large and always full of people that it might take a whole day to browse all the products," Fu Guojun, a 52-year-old Beijing resident who lives three blocks away from Xinfadi, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Although Fu's COVID-19 nucleic acid test was negative, he is still worried about the high risk of the virus from the market spreading around the city. 

"We call Xinfadi the 'Beijinger's food bucket' and a 'wholesale aircraft carrier' because the food that feeds the people in the city mostly comes from this wholesale market," Fu said.

According to the market's website, the market supplies more than 80 percent of the city's food materials. "Retail stores, grocery stores and other small-scale markets tend to purchase products from here due to its cheap prices and high volume," an employee at Xinfadi, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Global Times on Monday.

The products of the market in Beijing come from all over China. Media reports say that 93 percent of the vegetables at Xinfadi come from places such as North China's Hebei, Inner Mongolia and East China's Shandong and Central China's Henan provinces. 

In addition to Beijing, the market has 14 branches and more than 200,000 hectares of farmland, mostly concentrated in the northern and eastern parts of China. It also has overseas planting bases in eight countries, including Australia, Chile and six Southeast Asian countries, according to the market's website. 

The market, along with five other major markets in Beijing suspended operations on Friday. But an employee told the Global Times that the market has set up three temporary trading zones for vegetables and fruits in Fengtai district for residents and dealers. 

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