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Beijing preps COVID-19 hospital spaces

BEIJING (AP) – Beijing is preparing new hospital facilities to deal with a possible spike in COVID-19 cases, even though the numbers of new cases remain low.

State media reported yesterday a 1,000-bed hospital at Xiaotangshan in the northeastern suburbs built for the 2003 SARS outbreak has been refurbished in case it’s needed.

City officials on Saturday also announced they were setting up a 10,000-bed quarantine facility in the sprawling China National Exhibition Center to house those who have tested positive and their close contacts. However, no more has been said about such plans and the reports have largely disappeared, a possible sign officials are seeking to avoid spreading additional fears in a city already on edge.

New cases in Beijing have remained steady, with another 62 reported yesterday, 11 of them showing no symptoms, up just slightly from about 50 per day over the weekend. Beijing has reported about 450 cases in the two-week-old outbreak.

China has stuck to its strict “zero-COVID” approach that restricts travel, tests entire cities and sets up sprawling facilities to try to isolate every infected person. Lockdowns start with buildings and neighbourhoods but become citywide if the virus spreads widely.

A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant as residents line-up for mass coronavirus testing outside a residential complex in Beijing. PHOTO: AP

Beijing has isolated a few communities, but shied away from the sweeping citywide measures seen elsewhere.

That’s a possible reflection of the desire to maintain an outward calm in the city that more than anything symbolises the Communist Party’s unopposed rule over the vast country.

The urge is especially critical in a year when President Xi Jinping is seeking a groundbreaking third five-year term as party leader despite concerns about the return of single-man rule.

Xi has closely identified himself and the party with “zero-COVID”, making it politically impossible to abandon the approach, even as many other countries relax their pandemic restrictions and experts question its usefulness, saying vaccines and new treatments for COVID-19 make it unnecessary.

Beijing has ordered restaurants and gyms closed for the May Day national holiday that runs through today, while major tourist sites in the city, including the Forbidden City and the Beijing Zoo, closed their indoor exhibition halls from yesterday. Schools are closed indefinitely, even while senior students prepare for crucial exams.