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World Roundup: Beijing posts uptick in cases, situation ’extremely severe’

Beijing—Beijing's coronavirus situation is "extremely severe", a city official warned Tuesday, as 27 new infections were reported in the Chinese capital from a cluster that has sparked a huge trace-and-test programme.

The coronavirus resurgence—believed to have started at the city's sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market—has prompted alarm as China had largely brought its outbreak under control through mass testing and draconian lockdowns imposed earlier in the year.

The new cases took the number of confirmed infections in Beijing over the past five days to 106, as authorities locked down almost 30 communities in the city and tested tens of thousands of people.

These more than two dozen new coronavirus cases in China and the first New Zealand infections in almost a month on Tuesday underlined the immense challenges still ahead in containing the deadly pandemic, even as some EU nations reopened their borders to fellow Europeans.

More than eight million people have now been infected with the virus worldwide since it first emerged in China late last year—with more than 435,000 deaths—and the tolls are still surging in Latin America and South Asia.

Caseloads have declined across Europe, however, and governments are keen to ease lockdowns that have saved lives but devastated economies—despite experts warning that restrictions will be required until a vaccine or effective treatment is developed.

China had eased much of its anti-coronavirus measures in recent months as the government all but declared victory against the disease that emerged in Wuhan late last year.

"The epidemic situation in the capital is extremely severe," Beijing city spokesman Xu Hejian warned at a press conference.

The World Health Organization had already expressed concern about the cluster, pointing to Beijing's size and connectivity.

Officials in the city said they would test stall owners and managers at all of its food markets, restaurants and government canteens.

Zhao Honglei, manager of grocery chain store Shuguoyan, told AFP his 13 staff members had all tested negative.

Customers seemed reassured by the testing, he said, but online orders had increased tenfold in recent days.

"People are concerned that it might be crowded at shops or they might get infected," he said.

Beijing's testing capacity has been expanded to 90,000 a day, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Retiree Wu Yaling, 57, was in a long queue of masked people waiting in the scorching heat for tests at a park opposite one city-centre hospital.

"I try not to go out as much as possible," she said, adding that her home is near one of the closed markets.

On Tuesday, the capital's transport commission banned taxi- and ride-hailing services from carrying passengers out of the city, Xinhua said.

All indoor sports and entertainment venues in Beijing were ordered to shut on Monday, while some other cities across China warned they would quarantine arrivals from the capital.

The National Health Commission also reported four new domestic infections in Hebei province, which surrounds the capital, and a case reported in Sichuan province was linked to the Beijing cluster.

Authorities were racing to track people from Beijing who had travelled to other parts of China, and encouraging those who visited the capital to get tested.

Beijing officials said Tuesday they had disinfected 276 agricultural markets and 33,000 food and beverage businesses, closing 11 markets.

Seven more residential estates were also locked down on Tuesday.

"Beijing's outbreak will probably be controlled quite quickly," said Wu Hulin, a 23-year-old tech worker in Xicheng district who got tested.

"I think (China) is doing a better job compared to overseas."

Officials had warned that, since May 30, 200,000 people had visited Xinfadi market, which supplies more than 70 percent of Beijing's fruit and vegetables.

More than 8,000 workers there had been tested and sent for quarantine.

Until the new outbreak, most of China's recent cases were nationals returning as COVID-19 spread globally.

China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday the virus type found in the Beijing outbreak was a "major epidemic strain" in Europe.

Wu Zunyou, the body's chief epidemiologist, told state broadcaster CCTV the outbreak "most likely" originated from outside China or other parts of the country.

New Zealand reported its first cases in almost a month -- two recent arrivals from Britain -- prompting authorities to start tracing their movements.

The South Pacific nation had declared last week that it had ended community transmission of the virus.

While these cases have caused concern about the possibility of a full-blown resurgence in countries that have suppressed their outbreaks, the disease is gaining a worrying momentum in other regions with massive populations.

Known infections in India have crossed 330,000, and authorities already stretched by the COVID-19 outbreak are bracing for the monsoon season, which causes outbreaks of illness such as dengue fever and malaria every year.

With more than three decades as a doctor in India's chronically underfunded public healthcare system, Vidya Thakur -- medical superintendent at Mumbai's Rajawadi Hospital -- is used to managing "heavy burdens".

But now, she says, "COVID-19 has left us helpless... and the monsoon will make things even more difficult." 

Topics: coronavirus , deadly pandemic , Center for Disease Control and Prevention
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