The Chinese capital has shut down its biggest vegetable market and declared “wartime management” in one district amid a new cluster of coronavirus cases in which more than 50 people tested positive for the pathogen.
One health expert said the spike in infections linked to the market mirrored the early stages of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and Beijing should be on high alert to prevent the coronavirus from spreading to other cities.
The Beijing Health Commission said on Saturday that four more patients were confirmed with the virus and had symptoms, bringing the total number of new local cases in the last few days to seven. Two others were announced on Friday and one on Thursday, ending the capital’s 55-day run without new local cases.
More than 40 people at the market tested positive but showed no symptoms.
On Friday, the northeastern province of Liaoning also announced that it had two new cases, both of whom were close contacts of the two Beijing reported that day. Residents in the Liaoning city of Dalian have been advised to avoid going to Beijing.
Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of Beijing’s centre for disease control and prevention, said all of the cases were linked to the Xinfadi Agricultural Products Wholesale Market in Fengtai district, in southern Beijing.
The market, the biggest in the city for fruit and vegetables, was shut down completely on Saturday morning. Its meat and seafood section had already been closed.
Three of the four cases announced on Saturday had worked at the market while all four visited it before showing the symptoms.
Pang said these patients had probably contracted the disease after coming in contact with infected workers or contamination at the market.
Pang said health workers took samples for testing from the site and more than 500 people working at the market. In all, 45 people from Xinfadi and another worker at a market in Haidian district tested positive for the coronavirus but showed no symptoms.
The asymptomatic patients had been quarantined and put under observation.
Salmon was also taken off the menu of restaurants in the city after the virus was detected on cutting boards used at Xinfadi to prepare imported salmon, Beijing Youth Daily reported. Major supermarket chains, including Carrefour, had taken salmon and related products off the shelves.
In Dongcheng district, a downtown area that covers Tiananmen Square and the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, residents who had been to Xinfadi over the past 14 days also had to be tested, the newspaper reported.
Xu Hejian, deputy director of the propaganda department of the Beijing municipal Communist Party committee, said prevention and control efforts could not be relaxed, Beijing Daily reported on Saturday.
Sporting events and tour group trips to Beijing have been suspended and a return to class for pupils in kindergarten and the first three years of primary school has been put on hold.
Fengtai’s acting chief, Chu Junwei, said a command centre had been set up to oversee “wartime” restrictions in the district.
Chu said 11 residential compounds surrounding the Xinfadi market had been locked down and were under guard. Three nearby primary schools and six kindergartens had suspended classes.
Health commission spokesman Gao Xiaojun said the city would take samples from everybody who had “close contacts” with the Xinfadi market since May 30.
The commission was working with the police on a screening plan and would release it soon, he said.
The Beijing News quoted some restaurant managers as saying the city’s commerce bureau told them to check each customer’s health code – which indicates their risk of spreading the virus – before allowing them to enter.
Restaurants should also ask workers delivering supplies from the lamb and beef trade hall of the Xinfadi market and the Jingshen wholesale seafood market to show their test results.
Feng Zhanchun, a public health expert from Huazhong University of Science and Technology’s Tongji Medical College in Wuhan, said the links between the seven cases to the Xinfadi market and the positive test results from the 45 others at the centre meant the virus was spreading in the community.
“There is still no conclusion on the source and route of infection for Covid-19,” Feng said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Beijing must urgently upgrade epidemic control measures.”
He said the situation was similar to the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan where infections were first reported in a seafood market and later spread across the city.
“If it can’t be put under control right now, the virus will affect many people in a short time because of the high density of population in cities,” Feng said.