(Bloomberg) — Beijing reported a slight increase in new Covid-19 cases after officials late Wednesday denied the city will be locked down amid growing concern the Chinese capital’s response to a persistent outbreak is about to be intensified.
The capital reported 50 new cases for Thursday, compared with 46 cases for Wednesday, CCTV said.
Speculation that Beijing will be locked down or put into a “quiet period” are rumors, Xu Hejian, a spokesperson for the Beijing municipal government said at a press briefing late Thursday. The city’s some 20 million residents don’t need to be nervous about food supplies and deliveries aren’t halted, Xu said.
Ahead of the briefing, rumors that Beijing — which has seen an escalating raft of pandemic restrictions the past few weeks — may be subject to a lockdown like fellow megalopolis Shanghai raced through the city. Queues quickly started to form Thursday afternoon at grocery stores, where shelves were being emptied of fresh vegetables and other staples.
Instead of a lockdown, the municipal government said Thursday it will conduct three rounds of mass testing for people living in the city’s 11 main districts and one economic zone through the weekend, while scenic spots and hotels in the city’s five surrounding districts will be shuttered.
China’s strict Covid Zero policy sees all positive cases and their close contacts isolated in government quarantine sites. The strategy, which relies on a playbook of closed borders, quarantines, lockdowns and mass testing, is leaving the country increasingly isolated as the rest of the world lives with Covid and opens up.
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Beijing has never seen a city-wide lockdown during the pandemic, even during the early days of 2020, so such a move there — in China’s center of power — would be seen as hugely symbolic.
Shanghai has already been locked down for more than a month, with food shortages and delivery delays marking the first few weeks of restrictions. Most of that city’s 25 million residents remain under some form of lockdown, as officials seek to eliminate Covid from within the community, despite the increasing economic and social costs.
The financial hub reported 2,096 cases for Thursday, up from 1,449 on Wednesday, the first increase in about two weeks.
Four of those cases were found in the community — up from two yesterday — further pushing back prospects for easing the lockdown. Officials have said that three days of zero community transmission is required before they can start to ease restrictions.
It’s uncertain if the city can hit the three-day target. It managed two days with zero community spread at the end of April, only for cases to rebound.
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