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China predicts "cliff-like drop" in Beijing's 2nd-wave coronavirus outbreak as testing ramps up

Beijing in lockdown amid new COVID-19 wave

Beijing — Authorities in China's capital confirmed 13 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections in Beijing's new outbreak to 249. The resurgence of COVID-19 has been linked to the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market, which supplies the majority of the capital region's fresh produce and some meat.

Beijing quickly bolstered measures to stop the spread of the virus after it reemerged in the city of 21 million people on June 11 with a single case linked to the Xinfadi market. The city-wide response alert level was raised, some neighborhoods were put back under strict lockdowns and a massive team of health workers was deployed to test hundreds of thousands of citizens for the disease.

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A health worker wearing a protective suit takes a swab test on a man at an outdoor area during a mass testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Beijing on June 23, 2020. NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty

Officials have predicted the fast response will pay off.

Chief government epidemiologist Wu Zunyou lifted spirits across China and particularly in the capital late last week when he said the Beijing outbreak "has been brought under control."

Wu Hao, a disease control expert from the National Health Commission, told Chinese state television on Sunday night that Beijing would likely see the number of new cases recorded daily level off at more or less the current rate for about a week, after which he predicted, "the number will have a cliff-like drop."

He urged people, however, to be prepared for a long-term coexistence with the virus. "Zero cases in some areas doesn't mean no virus," he cautioned. "There may be asymptomatic carriers" of the disease.

Mass testing and other measures

To identify those carriers, the capital has dramatically ramped up its testing efforts. Authorities have said they plan to test all personnel working in high-risk industries, including farmers markets, catering services, supermarkets, shopping malls, and food and parcel deliveries, as well as health care staff and officials from the city's five designated "high-risk" and 38 "medium-risk" neighborhoods.

Beijing district in "wartime mode" amid new outbreak of coronavirus

Already the testing capacity in Beijing has increased from about 40,0000 people per day in March to 300,000 per day at present, and officials have said they hope to increase that ability further to be able to test one million people for the coronavirus every day in the capital.

Health workers in Beijing have collected 2.94 million test samples since the new outbreak surfaced, and 80% had been tested as of Monday. The National Health Commission has sent more than 200 staffers from Hubei, Liaoning and other provinces to help facilitate the massive testing effort in the capital region.

Residents from those 43 communities have been barred from leaving the city, Beijing health officials said Tuesday.

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A man comes to collect items he ordered online in a residential area in Xicheng district, which was under lockdown after a new COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak near the Xinfadi food market in Beijing, June 17, 2020. NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty

Chinese car-hailing platform DiDi Chuxing, which works similar to Uber, also said it would offer free coronavirus testing to its drivers in Beijing.

From Tuesday, Beijing railway authorities said they would strictly forbid passengers from boarding trains unless they can provide official certificates showing negative test results within the last seven days.

The source of the resurgence in Beijing has not yet been confirmed, but there has been speculation the disease may have been "imported" back into the capital, and China has suspended imports of poultry from U.S. firm Tyson Foods after cases were confirmed among its employees.

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Chinese police stand guard outside an entrance to the Xinfadi wholesale food market district in Beijing on June 13, 2020.  Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Pork imports from a German company were also banned last week after hundreds of its workers became infected.

Confirmed coronavirus cases exceeded 9 million globally on Tuesday, with 470,000 fatalities, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University. In China, 83,418 have tested positive for the virus, according to data supplied by the government, and the death toll stood at 4,634 as of Tuesday.

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