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Beijing races to test millions after COVID-19 outbreak linked to bar

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Authorities in the Chinese capital Beijing raced Monday to contain a COVID-19 outbreak traced to a 24-hour bar known for cheap booze and large crowds, with millions undergoing mandatory tests and thousands under targeted closures.

The outbreak of 228 cases linked to the Heaven Supermarket Bar, which had just reopened when restrictions eased in Beijing last week, shows how difficult it will be for China to make a success of its “zero-COVID”- policy, like much of the rest of the world, is choosing to learn to live with the virus.

The re-emergence of infections also raises new concerns about the prospects for the world’s second-largest economy. China is just shaking off a lengthy lockdown in Shanghai — the most populous city and commercial nerve center — that also disrupted global supply chains.

“The epidemic prevention and control is at a critical moment,” Beijing health official Liu Xiaofeng told a news conference Monday, adding that the outbreak linked to the bar in the city’s largest district, Chaoyang, “ was still developing.”

To show how seriously the authorities are taking the situation, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan visited the bar and said it was necessary to strengthen COVID prevention and control in key places, state media reported Monday.

According to authorities, people infected with the outbreak live or work in 14 of the capital’s 16 districts.

An autonomous robot with a voice message advising people to wear masks and conduct social distancing patrols through an abandoned mall where most stores are expected to close Monday as part of COVID-19 controls in Beijing. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

A child holding a stuffed animal will receive a throat swab at a COVID-19 testing site in Beijing on Monday. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

Restrictions lifted last week

Drinking and dining in most of Beijing’s branches did not resume until June 6, after more than a month in which the city of 22 million people imposed the curbs, including by urging people to work from home and avoid shopping malls and parts of the transportation system. Close.

Chaoyang began a three-day massive testing campaign on Monday among its roughly 3.5 million residents. About 10,000 close contacts of the bar’s customers have been identified and their residential buildings have been sealed off.

Some planned reopenings of schools in the district have been postponed.

A resident talks to an employee wearing a protective suit at a residential building in Beijing on Monday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Queues snaked over test sites more than 100 meters on Monday, according to witnesses to Reuters. Large metal barriers have been erected around several residential complexes, with people in hazmat suits spraying disinfectant.

Other nearby businesses that were shut down included the Paradise Massage & Spa salon. Police tape and security personnel blocked the entrance to the salon on Sunday, and authorities said a handful of people would be temporarily detained for control.

Last week, when eating restrictions were lifted, Heaven Supermarket Bar, modeled as a large self-service liquor store with chairs, sofas and tables, regained its popularity among young, rowdy crowds hungry for socializing and partying during Beijing’s COVID restrictions.

The bar, where patrons scour the aisles to get their hands on everything from local spirits to Belgian beer, is known among Beijing revelers for its tables strewn with empty bottles and customers who fall asleep on the couches after midnight. .

People walk past fences on Monday outside the Heaven Supermarket bar, where the new COVID-19 outbreak originated, in Beijing’s Chaoyang district. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Officials have not commented on the exact cause of the outbreak, nor have they explained why they are yet to restore the level of the curbs from last month.

The state-backed Beijing Evening News wrote Monday that the outbreak stemmed from loopholes and complacency in epidemic prevention, saying that if it grew, “the consequences could be severe and would be such that no one would like to see it.”

Frustrations in Shanghai

Shanghai has endured two months of lockdown and the restrictions were lifted less than two weeks ago.

There was relief among residents Monday after massive tests for most of the 25 million people over the weekend saw only a small increase in the daily number of cases.

An employee wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) closed a fence on Monday that shields a residential area under COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai’s Huangpu district. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

But frustrations have continued to simmer over the damage the lockdown has caused, especially to residents’ livelihoods.

On Monday, shopkeepers in the city center held up signs and shouted for rent refunds, according to videos widely posted on Chinese social media. The rare protest had subsided by the time Reuters arrived on Monday afternoon, and there was a large police presence in the area.

Although most Shanghai residents have been released from the lockdown, 220,000 people are still confined to their homes under a rule that requires no positive cases to be found in their residential complexes for more than 10 days.

Another 600,000 are in control zones, where their movement within their compound is restricted.

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