Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist for the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said on Thursday that the coronavirus epidemic in Beijing “has been brought under control,” although he cautioned that new cases will still be reported.
“When I say that it’s under control, that doesn’t mean the number of cases will turn zero tomorrow or the day after,” Wu said.
According to Chinese officials, Beijing experienced 158 coronavirus infections since the new outbreak began on June 11. The number of new cases supposedly peaked on June 13.
Despite this seemingly low number of documented infections, the immense city of Beijing (population about 21 million) implemented some rather draconian measures, including travel restrictions, flight cancellations, and school closings. The entire city was raised to a Level Two virus alert, with Level One being the worst possible under the Chinese system.
CBS News noted on Thursday that, while the situation in Beijing has been described optimistically as a “soft lockdown,” it has some decidedly firm features, including literal fences hastily erected around 29 different neighborhoods.
Wu and other Chinese health officials described the Beijing outbreak as a “cluster” of infections centered around the Xinfadi food market in the southwestern part of the city. Xinfadi is among the largest of China’s notorious “wet markets,” dealing in raw meat and seafood, although reportedly not the kind of butchered wildlife that has been linked to the coronavirus and previous epidemics such as SARS.
The market covers over 276 acres, boasts about 2,000 stalls for dealers, and serves 15,000 customers a day. Not all of them are residents of Beijing; Chinese officials say a number of coronavirus cases in other cities have been linked to shoppers at the Xinfadi market.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) on Monday disputed a rumor circulating in China that the coronavirus was “imported” into the Xinfadi market on cuts of salmon from European providers. Chinese officials have been at pains to portray the Beijing outbreak as a foreign infection, but there are now some rumblings that China’s obsession with insisting all new coronavirus infections come from beyond its borders could backfire by slowing or halting imports of meat that China needs to keep food prices from spiraling out of control.
CBS quoted another official from the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control, director Gao Fu, speculating that the Beijing outbreak might have begun a month before it was detected, spread by “a lot of asymptomatic or mild patients.”