Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak

BEIJING (AFP) – Beijing’s airports cancelled two-thirds of all flights and schools in the Chinese capital were closed again yesterday as authorities rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak linked to a wholesale food market.

The city reported 31 new cases yesterday while officials urged residents not to leave Beijing, with fears growing about a second wave of infections in China, which largely brought its outbreak under control.

Tens of thousands of people linked to the new Beijing virus cluster – believed to have started in the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market – are being tested, with almost 30 residential compounds in the city now under lockdown.

At least 1,255 scheduled flights were cancelled yesterday morning, state-run People’s Daily reported, nearly 70 per cent of trips to and from Beijing’s main airports. According to the Chinese flight-tracking database VariFlight, around two-thirds of inbound flights and more than half of outbound flights at Beijing Capital International Airport were cancelled yesterday, while three-quarters of outbound and more than two-thirds of inbound flights at the new Daxing International Airport were cancelled.

Airline employees redirect a traveller at a checkpoint for passengers from high risk areas to present their COVID-19 test results before checking in for their flight at the Beijing Capital Airport terminal 2 in Beijing on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. PHOTO: AP

The outbreak already forced authorities to announce a travel ban for residents of “medium- or high-risk” areas of the city, while requiring all other residents to take nucleic acid tests in order to leave Beijing.

Meanwhile, several provinces were quarantining travellers from Beijing, where all schools – which mostly reopened – have been ordered to close again and return to online classes.

“The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe,” Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian warned on Tuesday.

Officials closed 11 markets and disinfected thousands of food and beverage businesses in Beijing after the outbreak was detected.

The city has now reported 137 infections over the last six days, with six new asymptomatic cases and three suspected cases yesterday, according to the municipal health commission.

An additional two domestic cases, one in neighbouring Hebei province and another in Zhejiang, were reported by national authorities yesterday, while there were 11 imported cases.

Authorities so far banned group sports, ordered people to wear masks in crowded enclosed spaces, and suspended inter-provincial group tours in response to the outbreak.

Entertainment venues in the trendy Sanlitun area were ordered to shut down, while shops were seeing lighter foot traffic.

Officials said since May 30, more than 200,000 people visited Xinfadi market, which supplies more than 70 per cent of Beijing’s fruit and vegetables. More than 8,000 workers were tested and quarantined.

Until the new outbreak, most of China’s recent cases were nationals returning from abroad as COVID-19 spread globally, and the government had all but declared victory against the disease.