China declares new contained outbreak after massive testing effort

BEIJING – Test. To restrict. Repeat.

Two weeks ago, the Chinese capital went into “wartime emergency mode”, renewing fears about a possible second coronavirus spike. Now, according to health officials, the outbreak is contained and the daily increase in cases has now been largely reduced to single digits.

With concerns about a second wave of coronavirus infections in the United States, the Beijing experience could give an idea of ​​what life might be like as new outbreaks emerge.

Nearly 270 new cases of locally transmitted coronaviruses have been reported since June 11 in Beijing, sparking a wave of testing, travel restrictions and contact tracing.

As new cases skyrocketed in the capital, the measures tested, including temperature checks, returned. But there was no complete blockade as during Beijing’s first brush with the virus in January with the government careful not to jeopardize the reopening of the economy, which had been stifled by months of blockades.

“Beijing will not become a second Wuhan,” said Zeng Guang, a senior expert at the China National Health Commission, at the start of the new outbreak when the city competed to stop the virus. Wuhan, where the pandemic is believed to have originated, was the first city to enter a total closure, leaving 11 million residents trapped inside for 11 weeks.

People line up to sample COVID-19 at a government test site in Beijing’s Xicheng district on Wednesday. Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

China has been criticized for mishandling the early phase of the pandemic, silencing whistleblowers, failing to act fast and not involving the World Health Organization in the investigation into the origins of the virus.. He has seen more than 83,000 cases on the continent and 4,634 deaths.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the United States hit a one-day high for 45,557 new coronavirus cases reported, according to an NBC News count. So far, nearly 2.4 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S., with 122,661 deaths. The United States follows Brazil and the United Kingdom, with 53,830 and 43,165 deaths reported as of Thursday, respectively, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Until a vaccine is found, the new Beijing outbreak could provide an example of what life could be like in a pandemic as the virus returns to areas where it was previously considered to be under control.

The revival of the virus in the capital has been linked to the Xinfadi wholesale food market, which supplies about 80 percent of the city’s food. Local officials sealed off the market and closed neighborhoods around it.

According to the authorities, more than 350,000 people who had gone to Xinfadi since May 30 have been tracked, evaluated and quarantined. Overall, health officials said, more than 2.8 million residents have been examined in just over a week.

“The situation is still critical, but effectively under control,” Lei Haichao, director of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said during a recent press conference.

Test sites have popped up around the capital, home to some 21 million people. They have been installed in hospitals, sports centers and even soccer fields.

NBC News gained access to one of the nearly 500 established test sites in the city that authorities say can handle half a million people a day, an amount that authorities say can grow to as much as a million a day if necessary.

NBC News was unable to independently verify this claim.

A boy is bathed by COVID-19 at a government test site in Beijing on Monday. Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

Evidence is published and stakeholders are encouraged to contact their neighborhood committee, a local council. From there, a list is generated and people are told where and when to appear.

Certain groups such as delivery workers, restaurant employees, and healthcare workers had to undergo mandatory testing. For all others, it is recommended.

“I feel safer,” a woman said at a test site in the capital’s Xicheng district on Wednesday. “It is also a guarantee of safety for my family and friends.”

Meanwhile, the testing strategy in the United States is somewhat confusing.

President Donald Trump said last week that the increase in cases is the result of increased testing, with 25 million tests conducted so far.

But public health officials say that while that is true, the data shows that the virus is also spreading, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Wednesday of “a disturbing increase of infections “in parts of the country.

Janis Mackey Frayer and Eric Baculinao reported from Beijing. Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.