Man walks past a convenience store that sells produce from the Xinfadi wholesale market in Beijing: Reuters
BEIJING: China on Monday began coronavirus tests for 90,000 people and locked down several residential areas near a wholesale market in Beijing where a new cluster of Covid-19 broke out, even as the country reported 67 new infections including 42 in the capital.
In a bid to stem the spread of the contagion, the authorities in Beijing started conducting the nucleic acid tests on 90,000 people. About two lakh people were reported to have visited the Xinfadi wholesale market since May 30. Also several residential areas around the market, which supplies 90 per cent of vegetables and meat products, were placed under strict lockdown.
Beijing sacked two officials in Fengtai district - Zhou Yuqing, deputy head of the Fengtai district government, and Wang Hua, Party secretary of Huaxiang Township in Fengtai - for misconduct in office during epidemic prevention and control.
Zhang Yuelin was also ordered to be removed from the post of general manager of the Xinfadi wholesale market, official media reported.
Also, the official media here revived the debate about the origin of the coronavirus after Yang Peng, a researcher from Beijing CDC, told state-run CCTV that it has been preliminarily determined that the virus found on the samples from the market is related to strains China has seen from imported cases. The genome sequencing showed that the coronavirus came from Europe.
Thousands of overseas Chinese are currently returning with a number of them testing positive for the coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), which was blamed for supporting China since the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in December last, however, said the strain of the virus circulating at the Xinfadi market is not new.
Gene sequencing for the first case was reported as belonging to the European strain, which has been circulating in China and other countries, the WHO statement said.
The WHO also said it sought a report from China on the new cluster of cases in Beijing while its officials have not yet visited the area.
"WHO encourages the sharing of this and other sequences on a publicly available website as soon as possible. We await more genetic sequencing to see how close this virus is to others.
"We have asked China for the genetic sequencing and to receive new data on the epidemic as the investigation unfolds; and our counterparts are committed to continuing to provide such data. WHO is following up with Chinese officials for further detail," it said.
As all the new cases in Beijing were linked to the Xinfadi market in south Beijing's Fengtai district, health officials appealed to the people, who had visited the market since May 30, to undergo nucleic acid tests.
The sudden increase in cases has sparked concern that China may be on the cusp of a rebound of Covid-19, belying experts' predictions that a second wave may hit the country during the winter starting from October.
All hospitals in Beijing have been ordered to perform nucleic acid and antibody tests, a CT scan and a routine blood test on patients with a fever, Gao Xiaojun, spokesperson of Beijing's health commission, told the media on Sunday.
So far, the local government has closed six wholesale markets and made alternate arrangement for vegetable supplies to the retail stores.
The Beijing local government earlier said that the health workers detected the virus in 40 samples collected at Xinfadi, including from cutting boards used to prepare imported salmon.
Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the source of the latest outbreak could be either contaminated seafood or meat from the market, or a visitor or worker who contracted the virus unknowingly.
As of Sunday, the overall confirmed cases in China reached 83,181, including 177 active cases, with two in severe condition.
Altogether 78,370 people have been discharged after recovery and 4,634 people died of the disease, the authorities said.