Beijing on brink as city adds new quarantine centers

BEIJING (AP) — Residents in some parts of China’s capital were emptying supermarket shelves and overwhelming delivery apps Friday as the city government ordered faster construction of quarantine centers and field hospitals to COVID-19.

Uncertainty and scattered and unconfirmed reports of lockdowns in at least some Beijing districts have fueled demand for food and other supplies, something the city hasn’t seen in months.

Unusually large numbers of shoppers in the city’s northern suburbs left empty shelves at markets, but customers were relatively few in the center of the city of 21 million, where supplies remained plentiful.

Daily COVID-19 cases across the country are hitting records, with 32,695 reported on Friday. Of those, 1,860 were in Beijing, most of them asymptomatic.

Makeshift quarantine centers and hastily built field hospitals in gymnasiums, exhibition centers, and other large open indoor spaces have become notorious for overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, food shortages, and lights left on all night. 24 hours.

Most city residents have already been warned not to leave their compounds, some of which are fenced off. At the entrances, workers clad head-to-toe in white hazmat suits stop unauthorized people and make sure residents show a recent negative COVID-19 test result. as a result in the health applications of your cell phone to gain access.

Several college campuses have been closed and students in the lower grades have moved to online classes.

Meanwhile, some of Beijing’s grocery delivery services have reached capacity.

An increase in demand combined with a shortage of workers meant that some customers were unable to book same-day delivery slots on Friday for food and supplies from popular online grocery services such as Alibaba’s Freshippo and Meituan Maicai.

Online, some Chinese users said that some delivery drivers were unable to work because their complexes were closed. The reports could not be verified.

Alibaba did not immediately comment.

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, city government spokesman Xu Hejian said it was necessary to “strengthen the management and service guarantee” of quarantine centers and field hospitals where people are kept. who test positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with an infected person. They are taken by the police.

Authorities should “further speed up” its construction and “coordinate the allocation of space, facilities, materials, personnel and other resources,” Xu said.

In recent days, officials have repeatedly insisted that China must stick to its hardline “zero-COVID” policy that calls for lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having come in contact with the virus. The policy is seen as taking a heavy toll on the economy and changing lives in many Chinese cities, prompting the World Health Organization and others to call for a change of course, calls the ruling Communist Party has angrily rejected. .

While the number of cases and deaths in China is relatively low compared to the US and other countries, the party remains committed to the strategy, which aims to isolate each case and completely eliminate the virus. Most other governments have eased virus checks and now rely on vaccinations and immunity from past infections to help prevent death and serious illness.

Tougher measures have been enacted in many other parts of China, despite government calls for more precise and targeted measures to reduce the social burden and economic costs. Local officials are under intense pressure to prevent outbreaks and often gravitate towards the most extreme measures.

Guangzhou suspended access to its Baiyun district of 3.7 million people on Monday, while residents of some areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, were told to stay at home. while mass testing is underway.

A key issue is concern about public vulnerability to the virus. Since few have contracted COVID-19 or even been exposed to the virus, it is believed that only a small percentage have built up effective levels of antibodies to fight the virus.

China has an overall coronavirus vaccination rate of more than 92%, with most people having received at least one dose. But far fewer older Chinese, particularly those over 80, have received the vaccines, and the previous vaccination campaign appears to have lost momentum.

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