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Beijing Covid spike prompts mass testing, panic buying

BEIJING (AFP) – Fears of a hard Covid lockdown sparked panic buying in Beijing yesterday, as long queues for compulsory mass testing formed in a large central district of the Chinese capital.

China is already trying to contain a wave of infections in its biggest city Shanghai, which has been almost entirely locked down for weeks and reported 51 new COVID deaths yesterday.

Shanghai has struggled to provide fresh food to those confined at home, while patients have reported trouble accessing non-Covid medical care – and the rising cases in the capital triggered fears of a similar lockdown.

Downtown Beijing’s most populous district Chaoyang, home to some 3.5 million people, ordered mass testing from yesterday for residents and those coming to work there. The area hosts embassies and the headquarters of many multinational firms.

Queues snaked around malls and outside office complexes as people waited to be swabbed by health workers in protective gear.

“If a single case is found, this area could be affected,” said office worker Yao Leiming, 25, as he headed for a testing site in Chaoyang with a group of colleagues.

Residents at a supermarket in the Chaoyang district of Beijing. PHOTO: AP

The mass testing order, and warnings of a “grim” Covid situation in the city, sparked a run on Beijing’s supermarkets overnight as residents rushed to stockpile essentials.

Many items on grocery delivery apps sold out on Sunday night after the testing order was announced, but stocks were replenished yesterday.

Beijing Health Official Pang Xinghuo said at a press conference yesterday there had been 70 infections across half the city’s districts since Friday, saying the “distribution area of infected people… has expanded”.

Officials told residents not to leave the city for the upcoming five-day May public holiday or join group gatherings.

Some 40 per cent of yesterday’s scheduled flights from the capital’s airports were cancelled, according to flight tracking data.