Beijing reports zero virus cases for first time since new outbreak

BEIJING (AFP) – Beijing yesterday reported zero new coronavirus cases for the first time since the emergence of a cluster in the Chinese capital in June that prompted fears of a domestic second wave.

Three hundred and thirty-five people have been infected since a cluster emerged at the city’s massive Xinfadi wholesale market in early June.

The news comes as millions of students in the city and around the country gather in exam halls to take the all-important national college entrance exam after days of tracking their health.

Beijing’s health commission said yesterday it detected only one asymptomatic case the previous day, which China does not include in its count of confirmed infections.

While Chinese authorities are still investigating the cause of the latest outbreak, the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon at Xinfadi market, prompting a ban on certain imports and increased scrutiny of foreign food suppliers.

A woman adjusts her protective face masks as she walks by a billboard with her partner in Beijing. PHOTO: AP

The Beijing Government tested more than 11 million people for COVID-19 since June 11 – roughly half the city’s population, officials said at a press conference yesterday. Residents lined up in the summer heat at testing venues across the city in June, with hundreds of thousands of samples collected each day.

Localised lockdowns across the city have been eased in recent days, with people living in areas of the city considered “low risk” now allowed to travel freely again.

The first batch of more than 5,000 people quarantined for their connections to Xinfadi market were released yesterday, Beijing spokesman Xu Hejian said.

But city authorities warned against complacency.

“Zero increase in cases does not mean zero risk,” Deputy Director of the city’s centre for disease control Pang Xinghuo told reporters.

Authorities “cannot rule out the possibility of new domestically transmitted cases over the next week”, she warned, as thousands of people including 31 asymptomatic patients remain under quarantine.

China had largely brought the deadly outbreak under control before the new Beijing cluster was detected last month.

The government has since also imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people in neighbouring Hebei province to contain a fresh cluster there, adopting the same strict measures imposed earlier this year in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected.