Beijing has reimposed lockdown restrictions on its 21 million residents, amid concern that a second coronavirus wave could spread to other regions.
Earlier this week the Chinese capital was forced to close schools, entire apartment blocks and neighbourhoods were locked down, while bars and restaurants were closed, following a spike in cases.
Travel in and out of the city has now been restricted, and flights have been cut by more than half for the first time since measures were eased in March.
Lockdown measures were reimposed after the confirmed cases were traced back to the city’s largest wholesale market, Xinfadi, which has been closed by authorities. It is reported to supply up to 80 per cent of meat and vegetables in Beijing.
Over the last 24 hours, the Chinese capital reported 21 new cases, down from 31 on Wednesday, and these were among 28 new cases recorded across the whole country. The total figure for Beijing now stands at 158.
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The figure included four from Chinese travellers returning from outside the country and three in the city of Tianjin and Hebei province, both of which border Beijing.
Officials believe the outbreak may not have started in June or late May but even earlier in April, according to state media.
Assistant director of Beijing’s centre for disease control and prevention, Pang Xinghuo, said: ‘The outbreak is on the rise.
‘Considering the market is the largest trading centre of agricultural products in Beijing, it cannot be ruled out that the number of infections will rise for some time to come.’
Officials have been faced with the task of tracking and tracing thousands who visited the Xinfadi market between May 30 and Saturday, when it was closed.
It is understood that since June 13, a total of 356,000 swab samples have been tested – but some have raised concerns that mobile phone data is being used to track people down. Big data companies are said to have denied this is the case.
An AP reporter explained in the New York Times how he received a phone call on Wednesday after taking photographs near the Xinfadi wholesale market, despite not entering the premises.
He said an official from his local area’s community association told him he needed to go to a nearby sports stadium, where he would be taken by bus to a coronavirus testing centre.
The reporter said the person on the other end of the phone didn’t know his name but knew that someone linked to his phone number had been close to the market.
He said he was then driven by bus with others to the pop-up testing centre in a converted museum and got tested.
Images show hundreds who were traced back to the market lining up waiting for a test.
Senior expert with the National Health Commission, Zeng Guang, said earlier this week that there could be a high chance of a ‘mild second wave’ if the virus is not contained swiftly.
However, he denied Beijing could become like Wuhan, which has seen a similar resurgence in recent weeks.
Wuhan was once thought to be the epicentre of the outbreak, following the first confirmed cases of the virus in December last year.
The city launched plans to test its entire population of 11,000,000 people after new cases of the virus were found in May.
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