Beijing to test 20 million people for COVID to avert disaster in Shanghai

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI — Three-quarters of Beijing’s 22 million people lined up for COVID-19 tests on Tuesday as authorities in the Chinese capital sought to stamp out the nascent outbreak and avert the debilitating citywide lockdown that has engulfed Shanghai for a month.

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With China’s commercial hub struggling to meet the basic needs of its increasingly frustrated 25 million residents, people in Beijing stocked up on food and supplies.

Videos on social media show people leaning out of Shanghai windows to smash pots and pans in anger, or play “Do you hear people sing?”, the protest anthem from the musical Les Misérables, on flutes and trumpets.

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Beijing hoped to avoid such drama by acting quickly.

Testing began in the most populous area of ​​Chaoyang on Monday morning. By nightfall, authorities had listed 10 other districts and one economic development zone for mandatory testing this week, covering a total of 20 million people, of whom 16 million were due to be tested on Tuesday.

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Orders come days after dozens of infections were discovered. Shanghai waited about a month and more than 1,000 cases before starting citywide testing in early April.

Liu Wentao, a Beijing chef, said he was concerned about the new outbreak but was confident the capital would deal with it.

“The virus control is stronger than other places, I don’t think it will be like Shanghai,” he said en route to testing.

Beijing recorded 33 new cases of COVID-19 on April 25, up from 19 the day before, with no deaths reported so far during the outbreak. The total number of cases is negligible compared to the hundreds of thousands in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported 52 new COVID deaths on Tuesday, up from 51 days earlier. This brings the official death toll to 190, all recorded since April 17, though many residents say relatives or friends died after contracting COVID back in March, casting doubt on the statistic.

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In the capital, schools, shops and offices remained open, but the iconic Lama Temple will be closed to tourists from Wednesday and the Beijing National Theater will remain closed until the end of the month.

Officials urged residents to refrain from leaving the capital and avoid gatherings during the upcoming holidays, which will run from April 30 to May 4.

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Concerns about the economy have reverberated among residents, businesses and financial markets, with Chinese stocks hovering near a two-year low.

“If we can’t go to work, we won’t have any income,” said Dewei, 31, who worked at Chaoyang’s small gym.

The economic impact of any lockdown in Beijing is likely to be less severe than the impact on Shanghai’s manufacturing hub, a key cog in national and global supply chains.

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“I think it has less business impact in Beijing because most of these positions can be done from home,” Jörg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce, told Reuters.

“It takes less trucking, less packaging, less production.”

Hwabao Trust economist Nie Wen has calculated that a double lockdown between Beijing and Shanghai could cut China’s economic output by one percentage point in the second quarter.

This will exacerbate geopolitical and real estate headwinds in a key year for President Xi Jinping, who is widely expected to run for a third presidential term.

“The political implications of locking down China’s capital will be severe,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank, referring to the risks to international reputation and social stability.

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Strict enforcement continued in Shanghai, but plans for a citywide PCR testing exercise were somewhat derailed by initial hail and thunderstorm forecasts, later downgraded to cloudy conditions.

While authorities say they have eased some restrictions, most people are still either confined to their homes or unable to leave their apartment complexes. Even those who can get out have a few options as shops and most other places are closed.

In areas where people are allowed to leave their homes, residents have been asked to take rapid antigen tests on their own, rather than standing in line for PCR testing in the rain. In the rest of Shanghai, daily PCR tests remained mandatory.

The extended lockdown has sparked frustration over lost wages, family separations and quarantine conditions, and access to health care and food as residents struggle to take out the trash and run basic errands.

The Shanghai government did not immediately comment on signs of growing discontent.

The number of asymptomatic and symptomatic new cases fell slightly to 15,319 and 1,661 respectively, while the number of cases outside the quarantine zones remained at 217. Other cities that were in lockdown began to ease restrictions as soon as the number of such cases reached zero.

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