Thursday, February 27, 2020

Protecting Beijing Critical in China’s COVID-19 Battle
By GT staff reporters
Global Times
2020/2/27 23:33:40

Pictured is a hutong in Beijing's Xicheng district. All hutongs in both Dongcheng and Xicheng districts are under strict management. Local residents, employees and visitors to Beijing only could enter and exit using community issued registration cards amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Beijing is facing mounting pressure in efforts to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) as new confirmed infections surged due to imported cases of infection and cluster outbreaks.

Officials from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) confirmed Thursday that the authorities put the capital on top priority of its epidemic prevention and control work, with measures benchmarking those adopted in epicenter Hubei and execution even more rigorous and decisive.

Epidemic control in Beijing is relevant not only to the nationwide battle against the virus but also a global one, as the disease has increasingly become a global challenge, CDC officials said. 

Chinese top leaders urged all-out efforts in containing the virus spread in the capital, as its stability and security is directly relevant to the overall work of the Party and the country. 

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at China CDC, told the Global Times on Thursday, that epidemic control criterion in Beijing is different from other provinces and municipalities, aside from Hubei, where Wuhan, the epicenter, is located.

"Epidemic control work in Beijing is most critical. Although the current situation in the capital is not as severe as in Hubei, by referencing the measures taken there, the steps taken in Beijing are much more decisive than in other cities," Zeng said.

Epidemic control standards fall into a unique category for Beijing, and as the nation's capital, it has a dense population with high individual mobility, extensive educational facilities and a large number of people returning from an extended holiday, the chief epidemiologist said. Meanwhile, with the high density of embassies and frequency of international flights, the situation in Beijing may potentially accelerate the epidemic on a global scale.

Beijing banned on Thursday Hubei residents from entering the city after a female ex-prisoner returned to Beijing on February 22 after being released from Wuhan under a so-called strict city lockdown in the epicenter, triggering concerns over loose management in the epicenter's control work. Local authorities in the capital city are also urged to set up checkpoints at highway entrance to the city to screen incoming people and vehicles.

Given infection numbers spiked in neighboring countries such as South Korea and Japan, more stringent border entry measures have been implemented in Beijing, including a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all foreign nationals who are from or have traveled through virus-stricken areas.

Safeguarding Beijing

Beijing, with 22 million people, has not fully regained its vitality in the past two weeks despite some companies and institutions have resumed work or are preparing to restart business amid the outbreak. Downtown streets, which used to be jampacked with people, are now almost empty during lunch breaks, while checkpoints are set up at residential communities, office buildings, and even at the entrance to parking lots where security guards and social workers test residents' body temperatures before allowing them to enter.

Under significant pressure regarding epidemic control work, Beijing saw a significant rebound of new infections on Wednesday as 10 new cases were reported, ending single-digit growth since February 13. Outside Hubei, new infections in other provinces and municipalities reached 24 on Wednesday, with new cases in Beijing accounting for nearly half of the overall total in the mainland.

Among recently reported cases, one confirmed patient surnamed Sun works as a cleaner and was diagnosed as a suspected case on Sunday, causing several more infections in the same workplace, Pang Xinghuo, vice director of Beijing's CDC, told a press conference on Thursday morning.

The source of the contagion was from Handan, in North China's Hebei Province, and it is a typical imported case triggering cluster infections at a workplace, she said.

While major administrative institutions, companies and authorities in Beijing are gradually resuming work in the past few weeks, grass-root authorities have been facing more challenges in containing the further spread of the virus.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country's top economic planner, said, apart from Beijing and Hubei, other places, based on a county-level, have been divided into three categories from low, medium to high risks in regards to work resumption procedures.

"Low-risk areas implement strategies of preventing outside infections while fully restoring production and normal life, those at medium risk should prevent imported cases and local spread. High risk areas should carry out prevention measures, plus strict management and control," Ou Xiaoli, official from the NDRC, said on Tuesday.

Yang Gonghuan, former vice director of China CDC, told the Global Times on Thursday that Beijing is an iconic place for China's epidemic situation, which needs exceedingly strict management measures as it is the center of the country's social and economic affairs.

All-out efforts

Beijing authorities vowed to enhance epidemic prevention and control work, particularly enhancing the efforts in monitoring the people who work in logistics, cleaning and other related industries, considering rising risks of both imported cases and case clusters as people return to work, Pang said during the press conference.

After days of zero new infections, Beijing saw 10 new cases the day after some reports suggested that a confirmed patient left Wuhan and arrived in Beijing amid supposedly strict travel controls in Hubei Province. The incident sparked questions about whether there are loopholes in the lockdown management in Wuhan and Hubei as well as concerns over the effectiveness of traffic controls and geographical isolation, which are measures proven effective in curbing the viral spread over the past month.

Beijing authorities announced they had launched a thorough investigation of the patient who returned on February 22 from Wuhan to Beijing, and more details will be released later.

Beijing also issued a notice to all the local companies and organizations to ensure "zero infection," which is also a major political task related to the evaluation of local officials' performance, analysts said.

"The new infection cluster in Beijing showed that the head of the work unit hasn't strictly implemented control measures and managed its staff members," Zhu Sheng, vice head of Chaoyang district, was quoted as saying in media reports on Thursday.

As of the end of Wednesday, Beijing recorded in total 410 confirmed cases along with five deaths, and 2,658 persons having close contact with infected patients.

A social worker at a residential area in Tuanjiehu, in the most viral-stricken Chaoyang district, said they conduct disinfection work every day inside buildings and residents have to scan a QR code at checkpoints before entering the residential area. In recent days, all the returnees to Beijing from other provinces are required to sign a letter of commitment for a 14-day mandatory quarantine period and report body temperatures daily.

"If they don't follow the rules, they will bear the consequences on their own accord. Residents are not allowed to leave the area before they finish self-quarantine," she said.

"There were some clusters of cases and imported infections in Chaoyang. Now we have to inform every household the importance of the prevention and control work," the social worker told the Global Times. After 14 days, it's up to companies and work units to take responsibility as residents return to work.

As part of efforts to contain the further spread of the virus, local authorities announced they would dispatch Party members and officials from major institutions to cover all residential areas in the city and implement all-day inspections, which is also a major measure taken to control the flow of people.

Our focus now is the management of those who return to Beijing, a subdistrict official from southern Beijing told the Global Times.

"To prevent imported cases of infection, returnees must quarantine themselves at home for 14 days. At the same time, we also go all lengths to manage the communities, as we issued different permits to each resident depending on if he or she is a permanent resident, a tenant or a temporary resident." the official said, noting that local authorities keep in close contact with those who left Beijing and have yet to return to know their situation, and also supervise buildings and companies on work resumption.

At this moment, people should remain highly vigilant and avoid having a relaxed mind-set. Some residents and social workers in Beijing also suggested setting up checkpoints at highways or conducting a full-scale screening at communities where foreigners such as South Koreans and Japanese live, given the situation has been worsening in neighboring countries. 

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