Beijing tests millions, isolates thousands over COVID cluster at 24-hour bar

Jun 13, 2022: According to a report by Reuters, authorities in China’s capital Beijing on Monday raced to contain a COVID-19 outbreak traced to a raucous 24-hour bar known for cheap liquor and big crowds, with millions facing mandatory testing and thousands under targeted lockdowns.

The outbreak of nearly 200 cases linked to the city centre Heaven Supermarket Bar, which had just reopened as curbs in Beijing eased last week, highlights how hard it will be for China to make a success of its “zero COVID” policy as much of the rest of the world opts to learn how to live with the virus.

The re-emergence of COVID infections is also raising new concerns about the outlook for the world’s second-largest economy. China is only just shaking off a heavy blow from a two-month lockdown of Shanghai, its most populous city and commercial nerve centre, that also roiled global supply chains.

Dine-in service at Beijing restaurants resumed on June 6 after more than a month in which the city of 22 million people enforced various COVID curbs. Many malls, gyms and other venues were closed, parts of the city’s public transport system were suspended, and millions were urged to work from home.

“We have to test every day now. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s necessary,” said a 21-year-old resident surnamed Cao, who runs a convenience store in Beijing’s largest district Chaoyang, where the bar cluster was discovered. “The virus situation has hurt our business a bit, it’s down about 20-30%.”

Chaoyang kicked off a three-day mass testing campaign among its roughly 3.5 million residents on Monday. About 10,000 close contacts of the bar’s patrons have been identified, and their residential buildings put under lockdown, and some planned school reopenings in the district have been postponed.

With the almost 200 COVID cases linked to the bar since June 9, authorities described the outbreak as “ferocious” and “explosive” – people infected live or work in 14 of the capital’s 16 districts, authorities have said.

As Beijing authorities wrestled with new COVID cases in April, retail sales in the capital shrank 16% year-on-year, while property sales nosedived 25%. Data for May, due later this month, is expected to be dire as well.

Before the bar cases, there had been high hopes for a rebound in June.

Shanghai, which completed mass testing for most of its 25 million residents at the weekend after lifting its lockdown and many of its curbs at the start of the month, reported 37 cases, up from 29.

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