Beijing has returned to “wartime” footing and banned tourism, locked down 11 residential estates and shuttered a wholesale market after a fresh cluster of COVID-19 cases sparked fears of a new wave of infections.
Chu Junwei, an official of Beijing’s southwestern Fengtai district, told a briefing on Saturday that the district was in “wartime emergency mode”.
“Throat swabs from 45 people, out of 517 tested at the district’s Xinfadi wholesale market, had tested positive for the new coronavirus, though none of them showed symptoms of COVID-19”, Chu said.
A city spokesman told the briefing that all six COVID-19 patients confirmed in Beijing on Friday had visited the Xinfadi market.
The capital will suspend sports events and inter-provincial tourism effective immediately, he said.
“One person at an agricultural market in the city’s northwestern Haidian district also tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 without showing symptoms”, Chu said.
Authorities closed the Xinfadi market at 3am on Saturday, after two men working at a meat research centre who had recently visited the market were reported on Friday to have contracted COVID-19.
“Preliminary judgment suggests these cases may have come into contact with a contaminated environment in the market, or were infected after being in contact with infected people. We cannot rule out subsequent cases in the future,” said Pang Xinghuo, an official at the Beijing Center for Disease Control.
Beijing authorities had earlier halted beef and mutton trading at the Xinfadi market, alongside closures at other wholesale markets around the city.
Reflecting concerns over the risk of further spread of the virus, major supermarkets in Beijing removed all stocks of salmon from their shelves overnight after the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon at the Xinfadi market.
Beijing authorities said more than 10,000 people at the market will take nucleic acid tests to detect coronavirus infections. The city government also said it had dropped plans to reopen schools on Monday for students in grades one through three because of the new cases.
It also said restaurants would be inspected and checks made on seafood products and fresh and frozen meats.
The first new case in Beijing after two months – who had no recent travel history outside the city – was reported on Thursday. “China reported 11 new COVID-19 cases and seven asymptomatic cases on Friday”, the national health authority said.
Five of the new confirmed patients were imported cases involving travellers from overseas, with the remaining six locally transmitted cases all in Beijing.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in China now stands at 83,075, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.