China reported 57 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, the highest daily figure since April, as concerns grow about a resurgence of the disease.
Through strict lockdowns, the domestic outbreak in China had been brought largely under control early this year – but a new outbreak has been linked to a meat and vegetable market in south Beijing.
The National Health Commission said 36 of the new cases were domestic infections in the capital, Beijing.
The other two domestic infections reported on Sunday were in north-eastern Liaoning province, and local health officials said they were close contacts of the Beijing cases.
“The capital should expand the scope of nucleic acid testing for the virus”, a city government spokesman said on Sunday. He told a news conference that Beijing has entered an “extraordinary period” with the large jump in cases.
The alert was sounded after the NHC confirmed the first cases in Beijing for two months on Friday and city officials delayed the return of students in primary schools that had not already resumed classes.
Several of the new cases were linked to the Xinfadi wholesale market, and more cases connected with the market emerged on Saturday after wider testing.
The market was closed and hundreds of police officers – many wearing masks and gloves – and dozens of paramilitary police were deployed there on Saturday.
The new cluster of domestic infections has prompted fresh lockdowns with people ordered to stay home in 11 residential estates near to the market.
Worries have also grown about the safety of the food supply chain, with some other markets in the city also closed.
State-run media had reported that the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon, and that major supermarket chains had removed stocks of salmon.
Soon after, Beijing authorities ordered a city-wide food safety inspection focusing on fresh and frozen meat, poultry and fish in supermarkets, warehouses and catering services.
One trader surnamed Sun, selling tomatoes and cherries at a local food market in central Beijing, said that there were fewer customers than normal.
“People are scared,” he said. “The meat sellers have had to close. This disease is really scary.”
Although the Xinfadi market accounts for much of the capital’s food supply, Sun said that it didn’t affect him as he gets his produce directly from farmers.
Nine nearby schools and kindergartens have been closed and Beijing has delayed the return of students to primary schools.
The rest of the cases reported on Sunday were brought into the country by Chinese nationals returning home from overseas.