Beijing on edge as city adds new quarantine centers

BEIJING (AP) — Residents in parts of the Chinese capital emptied supermarket shelves and crushed delivery apps on Friday as the city government ordered the faster construction of COVID-19 quarantine centers and hospitals for country.

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

An unusually high number of shoppers in the city’s northern suburbs left shelves empty at the 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 hit record highs, with 32,695 reported on Friday. Of those, 1,860 were in Beijing, the majority of them asymptomatic.

Makeshift quarantine centers and field hospitals hastily thrown into gymnasiums, exhibition centers and other large open indoor spaces have become notorious for overcrowding, poor hygiene, scarcity of food supplies and lights that stay on for 24 hours.

Most townspeople have already been advised not to leave their compounds, some of which are fenced. At entrances, workers dressed head-to-toe in white hazmat suits stop unauthorized people and ensure residents present a recent negative COVID-19 test result on their cellphone health apps to gain access.

Several university campuses have been closed and students in lower grades have been transferred to online courses.

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

A surge in demand combined with a labor shortage prevented some customers from booking same-day delivery slots on Friday for food and supplies from popular online grocery services such as Freshippo. Alibaba and Meituan Maicai.

Online, some Chinese users said some delivery people were unable to work because their premises were locked. Reports could not be verified.

Alibaba did not immediately comment.

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

Authorities should “further expedite” their 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 uncompromising ‘zero-COVID’ policy which imposes lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having come into contact with the virus. The policy is seen as damaging the economy and disrupting lives in many Chinese cities, leading the World Health Organization and others to call for a change of course – calls the ruling Communist Party has rejected with anger.

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

Tougher measures have been adopted in many other parts of China, although the government has called 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 on Monday suspended access to its Baiyun district of 3.7 million people, while residents of certain areas of Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, were told to stay at home while mass testing is carried out.

A key issue is concern over the public’s vulnerability to the virus. Few of them having caught COVID-19 or even having been exposed to the virus, only a small percentage are believed to have accumulated effective levels of anti-virus antibodies.

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

Also on Friday, Beijing slashed the amount of reserves banks are required to hold in a move that will help lenders comply with deferral orders for struggling businesses due to increased virus checks. .

The amount of deposits banks are required to leave with the People’s Bank of China will be cut by 0.25 percentage points to an average of 7.8 percent, the central bank said. He did not mention virus checks and said the cut would “consolidate the bottom-up basis for economic stability”.

Private economists and the International Monetary Fund have cut already low forecasts for China’s annual economic growth as the government closes shops and offices and tightens controls on manufacturing.

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