Authorities in Beijing are racing to contain a Covid outbreak that has been traced to a 24-hour bar known for cheap liquor and large crowds, as millions of people face mandatory testing and thousands undergo targeted closures.
The outbreak of 228 cases linked to the Haven supermarket bar, which has just reopened as restrictions were eased in the Chinese capital last week, highlights how difficult it is for China to achieve its “zero COVID” policy like so many of the rest. The world is trying to live with the virus.
The resurgence of infections is also raising new concerns about the future of the world’s second largest economy. China is only working to offset the economic impact of the two-month Shanghai lockdown that has disrupted global supply chains.
“Epidemic prevention and control are at a critical juncture,” said Liu Xiaofeng, a health official in Beijing, at a press conference on Monday, adding that the outbreak linked to the pub in Chaoyang, the city’s largest district, “is still developing.”
In a show of how seriously the authorities are taking the situation, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited the bar and said COVID prevention measures need to be strengthened, state media reported.
Authorities said those affected by the outbreak live or work in 14 of the capital’s 16 neighborhoods.
Dining service in Beijing restaurants resumed on June 6 after more than a month in which the city of 22 million people imposed various restrictions over the coronavirus. Many malls, gyms and other venues have been closed, parts of the public transport system have been suspended and millions of people urged to work from home.
Chaoyang began a three-day mass testing campaign among its population of about 3.5 million on Monday. About 10,000 close contacts of the bar-goers have been identified and their apartment buildings have been closed. Some planned school reopenings in the area have been postponed.
Reuters witnesses reported that queues spread around the test sites on Monday to a distance of more than 100 metres. Large metal barriers were installed around many apartment complexes, where people in hazmat suits sprayed disinfectant.
Other nearby businesses that have closed include Paradise Massage Parlor and Spa. Bar police and security staff closed the salon’s entrance on Sunday and authorities said a handful of people would be provisionally detained for screening.
Last week with dining restrictions lifted, Heaven’s Supermarket Bar, designed as a large self-service liquor store with chairs, sofas and tables, has regained popularity among the bustling young crowds hungry for socializing and partying during Beijing’s Covid restrictions.
The bar, where patrons scan the aisles for anything from local spirits to Belgian beer, is known among Beijing revelers for its tables full of empty bottles, and customers sleeping on sofas after midnight.
Officials have not commented on the exact cause of the outbreak, nor have they explained why they have not yet brought back the level of restrictions seen last month.
The state-backed Beijing Evening News wrote on Monday that the outbreak arose out of loopholes and complacency in epidemic prevention, and said that if it did grow, “the consequences could be dire, and no one would want to see them.”
Shanghai has suffered a two-month lockdown, with restrictions lifted less than two weeks ago. There was relief among its residents on Monday after mass testing of most of its 25 million residents over the weekend showed a slight rise in daily cases.
But frustrations continued to fester over the damage the lockdown had caused, particularly to residents’ livelihoods. On Monday, downtown shopkeepers raised banners and shouted for rent refunds, according to videos widely shared on Chinese social media. The rare protest had subsided by the time Reuters visited on Monday afternoon and there was a heavy police presence in the area.