Mass testing and lockdowns begin in Beijing to contain COVID-19 outbreak

China’s capital, Beijing, began mass testing of more than three million people on Monday and restricted residents of part of the city to their compounds, raising concerns about a broader Shanghai-style lockdown.

While only 70 cases have been discovered so far in the city of more than 21 million people since a new outbreak emerged on Friday, authorities have put in place strict measures as part of the approach. China’s “zero-COVID” to try to prevent further spread of the virus.

Some residents were working from home and many were stocking up on food to hedge against the possibility of them being confined indoors, as has happened in several cities, including the financial hub of Shanghai. The city of Anyang in central China and Dandong on the border with North Korea also began shutdowns as the Omicron variant spread across the country.

Shanghai, which has been closed for more than two weeks, reported more than 19,000 new infections and 51 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing its reported death toll from the ongoing outbreak to 138.

People shop for food at a crowded supermarket in Chaoyang district on Monday. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Long queues have formed at supermarkets in central Beijing. Shoppers bought rice, noodles, vegetables and other food items, while store workers hastily restocked empty shelves. State media carried reports indicating that supplies remained plentiful despite the surge in purchases.

Shoppers seemed concerned but not panicked. One woman, carrying two bags of vegetables, eggs and frozen dumplings, said she was buying a little more than usual. A man said he wasn’t worried but was cautious as he had a two-year-old daughter.

Beijing health officials said 29 new cases had been identified in the 24 hours to 4 p.m. Monday, bringing the total to 70 since Friday.

Millions need to be tested

The city has ordered mass testing in the sprawling Chaoyang district, where 46 of the cases have been discovered. Chaoyang’s 3.5 million residents, as well as people who work in the district, are to be tested on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Test sites were set up overnight and early in the morning in residential compounds and office buildings around the neighborhood.

A woman is dabbed by a health worker in Beijing’s Chaoyang district. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

“I think Beijing should be fine,” Gao Haiyang said as he waited in line for a COVID-19 test. “Based on my community’s previous response, if there is an emergency, I think supply can be guaranteed. Also, we have learned lessons from other cities. I think we can make good preparations.”

Shanghai has caved under a strict lockdown that has prompted residents to band together to get food delivered through group buying. Goods shrank at the port of Shanghai, affecting supplies and factory production and hampering economic growth.

Beijing has locked residents in an area about two by three kilometers, telling them to work from home and stay in their residential compounds. It wasn’t a total lockdown – stores continued to operate – but cinemas, karaoke bars and other entertainment venues were closed.

Elsewhere, the city also closed some or all of the buildings in five residential complexes, adding to others that were closed on Sunday.