Beijing tests 20 million residents amid Omicron outbreak

Beijing, April 26 (IANS) Beijing has rolled out mass Covid testing for nearly 20 million residents in most of the city, as authorities race to contain a fresh Omicron outbreak that has sparked panic buying amid fears of a Shanghai style lockdown, the media reported.

The Chinese capital started testing all residents of Chaoyang, a bustling district home to the business centre and foreign embassies, in the first of three rounds of testing to be conducted over a five-day period. Residents and office workers formed long lines at makeshift testing centres throughout the day, CNN reported.

Nearly 3.7 million tests had been carried out, with more than half a million having returned a negative result, city officials said at a late-night news conference.

The officials also announced that mass testing would be expanded on Tuesday to all but five outlying districts of the capital, covering about 19.5 million of the city’s 21.5 million residents, CNN reported.

The announcement came after 29 cases were detected in the 24 hours through Monday, though officials said all the new cases were discovered in areas already under epidemic controls.

“The outbreak in Beijing is coming fast and furious,” Xu Hejian, a spokesperson for the Beijing municipal government, said at the news conference, adding that Beijing’s epidemic prevention and control efforts have “reached a critical moment”.

Since Friday, Beijing has reported a total of 80 cases. Although the caseload is still relatively low, authorities are not taking any chances, especially after seeing how fast the Omicron outbreak in Shanghai spiralled into tens of thousands of new cases.

Dozens of residential compounds across eight districts are already under strict lockdowns, in which residents are banned from leaving their homes or community grounds.

Officials have urged residents not to leave the city unless absolutely necessary, including during an upcoming five-day holiday. The Labor Day holiday, which begins on Saturday this year, has traditionally been a time for mass travel in China. But it is likely to be much more subdued this year, CNN reported.