Many people have postulated that the Coronavirus pandemic has run its course and that the outbreak is yesterday’s news. However, fears of a second wave of infections are being bolstered by the news of a new outbreak of cases in Beijing and China’s decision to lock down its capitol for a second time.
Beijing was largely spared the original outbreak and has been considered one of the safest cities in China. That has changed, however, with the discovery of 79 new cases reports CNN. The new outbreak was first reported on June 12 and 36 new cases were added to the total on Monday. The initial case of the new outbreak was the first new local case reported by China’s National Health Commission in two months.
The new cases all stem from the Xinfadi market, which deals in fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood. The market was closed by authorities on Saturday.
The new outbreak has already spread to the nearby provinces of Liaoning and Hebei. The five known cases there have been traced back to contacts in Beijing.
The local government in the Fengtai district has imposed a “wartime mechanism” to combat the new spread of the virus. These measures include establishing a command center and the lockdown of 11 residential areas near the market. Residents of the areas are prohibited from entering or leaving and residents are required to have their temperatures checked daily. People who have visited the market recently and their close contacts have been ordered to stay home for two weeks under medical observation. Schools, which were scheduled to reopen Monday, will now remain closed.
China has also introduced nucleic testing on a mass scale with 193 testing locations across the city. Nucleic testing detects the virus’s genetic code and is more effective at detecting the disease in its early stages than other tests.
The Chinese government seems confident in its ability to contain the new outbreak. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, a communist party newspaper, tweeted, “There is no way Beijing becomes Wuhan 2.0.”
So far, the source of the outbreak has not been identified. Yang Peng, a researcher with the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said that the virus found in Beijing is similar to strains seen in Europe. He speculated on China state television that the virus “could have come from contaminated seafood or meat, or been transmitted by people who have come into the market via their secretions.”
The new outbreak is a reminder that the danger from the virus is not yet past. Even in places where new cases are rare, the virus can lurk, hidden, and then explode into a new cluster under the right conditions. The threat of a second wave underscores the fact that the world cannot return to the pre-COVID normal until an effective vaccine or treatment is found.
In the US, the virus is not yet under control although the curve has been flattened. Coronavirus cases are still increasing in 18 states and the number of new cases reported daily in the US averages about 20,000, a rate which has not changed significantly since early May.
While the US seems to be experiencing pandemic-fatigue with many states lifting restrictions and President Trump resuming political rallies, the local Beijing government is taking even the small number of confirmed cases seriously and bracing for a more widespread outbreak. This attitude may be bolstered by the dismissal of several local party officials.
Lockdowns are easier to enforce in China due to the country’s authoritarian style of government and the ease with which the Chinese can order food and economic relief to quarantined areas. In the US, efforts to provide relief have been hamstrung by partisan wrangling and bureaucratic roadblocks. Congress passed the CARES Act in March, which included payments to individuals and loans to businesses, but many aspects of the bill expire in September and it seems increasingly likely that the crisis will last much longer than that. Agreement on a second relief bill has so far not materialized.
“The risk of the epidemic spreading is very high, so we should take resolute and decisive measures,” Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the Beijing city government, said in The Guardian, calling the crisis “an extraordinary period.”
If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.