Health

Beijing residents prepare for new wave of covid-19

Testing post in the Beijing neighborhood of FengtaiFearful of suffering a famine like the lockdown in Shanghai, residents of the capital stock up on food and other items. Government carries out mass tests. Experts point to costs of Chinese “covid zero” strategy. With restrictive anti-pandemic measures entering their fourth week in Shanghai, Beijing too is preparing for a potential wave of covid-19 cases. Local authorities intend to test 90% of its 21 million residents, according to the Chinese state-run Global Times. Starting this Tuesday, three rounds of testing should be carried out in 11 districts of the Chinese capital. The day before, mass tests had already begun in the district of Chaoyang, where 46 cases were registered and more than a dozen presidential buildings were quarantined. Residents told DW that testing stations were installed in each community. “The biggest ones have up to two posts, and all the exams are free,” a resident surnamed Lin told DW. In addition, health officials went door-to-door inviting testing. According to deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Pang Xinghuo, initial epidemiological tests show that the chain of transmission is basically clear. However, the authorities warn that there is still a risk of an escalation of the outbreak, as there is an increase in the flow of the population around the May holidays. The director of the Shenzhen city’s team of anti-epidemic experts, Lu Hongzhou, told the Global Times that the large-scale PCR tests administered by Beijing will “help a lot in keeping the epidemic under control.” According to Xi Chen, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health in the United States, Beijing officials seem to have learned from the experience in Shanghai. “The number of confirmed cases in Beijing last weekend was similar to that in Shanghai on March 3, 4. Shanghai waited ten days to tighten public health measures, and ended up enforcing a lockdown on March 28. The announcement of Beijing’s three rounds of mass testing looks more reactive this time.” ‘Relatively rational’ stockpiling of food Although only 70 cases have been reported since last Friday, news of mass testing has prompted Pekingese to stock up on food and other staples amid fears of sudden confinement. “After seeing the people of Shanghai in need of basic necessities during the lockdown, many in Beijing flocked to supermarkets and stocked up on rice, noodles, toilet paper and others,” confirmed resident Guo. In contrast, several supermarkets and e-commerce platforms have pledged to increase their inventories in order to ensure access to goods while preventing prices from soaring amid a wave of covid-19. According to another resident, Gu, the storage situation among the population “remains relatively rational.” On the other hand, professor of health and economics policy Chen stresses that the storage of fruits and vegetables can intensify the unequal distribution of resources, and that the Pekingese authorities should prioritize the regular supply of fresh goods, avoiding the shortage experienced by million in Shanghai after an “unprepared lockdown”. In light of widespread public discontent in Shanghai, Beijing residents consulted by the Chinese public opined that the population will basically remain loyal to the anti-pandemic measures implemented, trusting that temporary and targeted confinements will allow the spread of the coronavirus to be contained in just a few weeks. Costs of zero-covid strategy rise Yale’s Xi Chen disagrees with that optimism, pointing out that the costs of China’s zero-covid strategy are rapidly accumulating, and restrictions in the wake of local outbreaks could create more social and political tensions in Beijing than outbreaks in other parts of China. “Unlike many developed countries, which have been helping communities, businesses and families to weather the pandemic with stimulus packages and pension programs, this type of measure is still lacking in China. spread of the virus in the short term, in order to avoid major disruptions to the economy and society.” Other experts point out that the more transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus poses a serious dilemma for governments that still want to stick to the zero-covid strategy, as stringent controls will only prolong the duration of local outbreaks, rather than eradicating local transmission entirely. Chen adds that the costs of the zero-covid strategy depend on how long the Chinese government will take to reduce contagions, and how it will use that time to prepare for reopening: “If China takes too long to eliminate cases of covid, or if it wastes this important time window, the total costs will be considerably high.” Author: William Yang

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