Beijing will not be 2nd Wuhan; lockdown unlikely: expert

By Cao Siqi and Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/16 18:11:49

Workers install fences at the Shichahai scenic spot in downtown Beijing on Monday night to cordon off the area. Several districts in Beijing have upgraded their public health emergency response to Level II after a new COVID-19 outbreak began at a wholesale seafood market in Beijing last week. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Since the latest outbreak of COVID-19 was first uncovered in Beijing's largest wholesale food market on Thursday, Beijing reported a total of 106 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. In just five days, the capital city has been beefing up its prevention measures to curb the spread of the virus by locking down 29 residential communities, putting four large districts into "wartime mode," disinfecting 276 food markets, shutting down 11 underground and semi-underground markets, screening over 200,000 people within 72 hours and postponing classes in schools and closing entertainment venues.  

That makes it the most serious outbreak in China since February, dragging local citizens about to embrace normal life back to caution mode which they underwent four months ago. It demonstrates what "normalized epidemic prevention and control" means, as experts have been saying for months, and raised the questions, "Will the current prevention and control situation in Beijing be upgraded again? Is a second wave of the respiratory disease coming? And will Beijing be locked down as a second Wuhan?" 

Wu Zunyou, China's top epidemiologist, believes that as the new outbreak began around the end of May, the next three days from Tuesday will be critical and decisive for the capital city to curb the epidemic.

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital in Beijing, said it is still too early to judge the scale of this round of outbreak when the source of infections remains unknown. 

So far, the new cases have been linked to the Xinfadi market and have not spread widely. Beijing immediately tracked and controlled the outbreak after the initial cases were found, which played a role in preventing the spread of the epidemic, Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

He said the situation is different from Wuhan because Beijing has screened a large number of people in order to find potential patients. "It is abnormal to find nothing as it may prove that the city's prevention measures are not strong enough." 

With the number of confirmed cases rising, Beijing immediately took prevention and control measures. Up to now, all communities in Beijing have adopted a Level-III emergency response, Level-II prevention and control measures, and Level-I working status. At the same time, Beijing has screened nearly 200,000 people who had visited the Xinfadi market since May 30, with all required to take nucleic acid tests and self-quarantine at home for further observation. On Sunday alone, Beijing tested 76,499 people and found 59 positive cases.

Despite the similarities between the outbreaks in Wuhan and Beijing, the prevention and control ability and the cognition of novel coronavirus have been greatly improved, Wang said. "Compared to the initial stage of the outbreak in Wuhan, we have a very clear understanding of the virus, and people's awareness of prevention and control has made great progress. The experience accumulated in the early days of prevention and control also provides an effective reference for prevention and control measures taken at this stage."

"Beijing will never become the second Wuhan," Wang stressed. 

However, Wang warned that "if the number of new confirmed cases daily rises and the virus spreads to communities to a certain level, Beijing may consider imposing stronger anti-epidemic measures, and lock down the city." 

Zeng Guang,the chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times on Tuesday he believes the Chinese capital will manage the epidemic, and will not be put under a Wuhan-style lockdown despite rumors circulating among Beijing residents for days. 

Zeng said one of the main reasons for the Wuhan lockdown was the Spring Festival travel rush, also known as the largest human migration in the world, when about 3 billion Chinese travel around the country for family reunions each year.

China imposed a lockdown on Wuhan on January 23, two days ahead of the 2020 Spring Festival. 

Although Beijing has a population of 20 million, their movements could be controlled at this time of year, Zeng said.

Rumors circulating online recently said highways leading into the capital were closed. Officials from Beijing's traffic control department denied the rumor, saying they had not received any notice about closing roads into Beijing. Major Chinese express delivery companies also denied rumors that the delivery of packages to Beijing had been suspended.


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