Roughly two months after lifting the lockdown imposed on 500 million of its citizens, China is fighting to prevent a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic after a fresh outbreak occurred in the country’s capital of Beijing. Although the number of individuals found to be infected with the coronavirus is small compared to previous outbreaks around the world, this new resurgence illustrates the sheer tenacity of this virulent disease.
This spate of new cases ended China’s 55-day streak with no new illnesses reported, starting with a man testing positive for the coronavirus on June 11. 45 new cases cropped up in the following days, with most of these being traced back to the Xinfadi food market, Beijing’s largest, with traces of the virus being detected on a cutting board used to prepare salmon. The WHO suspects that the version of the virus behind this outbreak is related to the European strain, “probably imported from outside Beijing at some point,” according to the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, Dr. Michael Ryan.
To date, 322 new cases have been recorded, but with a handful of these cases being found in Hebei, Liaoning, Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces, authorities have imposed fresh travel restrictions on the region, cancelling more than 60 percent of the flights going to and from Beijing. A massively aggressive testing program has tested over 2.3 million individuals, with a focus on workers from the Beijing’s food markets and nearby residents when the program started on June 14.
It’s important to bear in mind that China does not count asymptomatic patients as confirmed cases, leaving them out of the official infection tally, so the number of individuals that are infected may actually be much higher.
“Two months of things loosening up, and life feeling like it’s going to be normal, and all of a sudden we’re back to where we were in February,” said Beijing resident Nelson Quan. His neighborhood in the city’s Yuquan district receives 80 percent of its fresh produce from the Xinfadi market, with tens of thousands of shoppers traveling to the market daily.