China races to stop Beijing outbreak as Shanghai deaths climb

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China ordered mandatory COVID-19 tests in a district of Beijing and locked down some areas of the capital as policymakers raced to prevent a repeat of the outbreak that’s hobbled Shanghai for weeks.

Worries that the country’s strict “COVID zero” policies, which rely on lockdowns and mass testing, will derail economic growth dragged down oil and iron ore prices on Monday morning. The moves follow a selloff in Chinese markets last week that sent the offshore yuan to a one-year low.

Beijing, a city of more than 20 million people, has locked down dozens of residential compounds and told inhabitants of the eastern district of Chaoyang to be tested three times this week after dozens of infections were found over the weekend. The Chinese capital has warned of more cases in coming days, with city government spokesman Xu Hejian saying late on Friday that the current outbreak is “complex and stealthy” while vowing to take further measures to prevent its spread.

The flareup comes as Shanghai reported a record number of fatalities and imposed stricter rules to try and stamp out infections. The twin outbreaks in two of China’s most significant cities is swiftly turning into an unprecedented test for President Xi Jinping, who is likely to seek a third five-year term during a Communist Party congress later this year.

China has repeatedly defended COVID zero, saying the policy saves lives and keeps the economy going, even as the strategy increasingly darkens the country’s growth outlook and threatens to disrupt global supply chains.

A health worker wearing personal protective equipment talks to the residents who are waiting to board a bus along a street during a COVID-19 lockdown in the Jing’an district in Shanghai on Tuesday. | AFP-JIJI

Shanghai, the epicenter of China’s worst outbreak since Wuhan more than two years ago, reported 51 fatalities on Sunday, taking deaths in the current wave to 138. There are 196 patients in severe condition and 23 in critical condition.

The city reported 19,455 new cases on Sunday. While daily infection numbers are on a broadly downward trend, the government still hasn’t reached its goal of eliminating spread in communities despite weeks of lockdowns — around 5% of new cases are still being found outside quarantine facilities and locked down buildings.

Authorities have started to enact nine actions announced last week, including installing fences in some neighborhoods over the weekend to seal buildings where positive cases have been found. It’s sparked renewed frustration among residents already locked down for weeks and unable to reliably access food or medical care.

In Beijing, local authorities will conduct the tests on people who live or work in Chaoyang on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the government said. Residents in the district — home to some 3.5 million people, including many expats, the central business district and most foreign embassies — were also asked to limit their movement to help curb the spread of the virus.

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