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Getting out of Beijing right now isn't very easy.
Desperate to prevent a fresh outbreak of the coronavirus from becoming a nationwide second wave, the authorities have effectively locked down the Chinese capital and are only allowing those with a negative COVID-19 test result to leave the city.
But some people have reported waiting hours for a test, and many testing centers are reporting they won’t be able to offer tests for weeks.
The city reported another 31 cases on Wednesday, meaning that the total of cases linked directly to the Xinfadi wholesale food market, where the latest outbreak is believed to have originated, is now 137.
Before the Xinfadi cluster was reported, Beijing had gone 57 days without a single new locally transmitted case.
On Wednesday, city officials expanded the restrictions they began putting in place earlier this week. Schools have been closed down again, over 1,200 flights into and out of Beijing have been canceled, and bus and rail journeys have been curtailed. Restaurants and bars that reopened just days ago have been shuttered once again.
The city’s emergency response was raised to level 2 late Tuesday night, the second-highest among four levels of disease response.
At least 27 neighborhoods have been classed as medium-risk, while one neighborhood close to the market is listed as high-risk. All residents in these areas have been ordered to stay home and take a nucleic acid test to determine if they are infected.
No visitors are allowed into these districts, and their residents are forbidden to leave the city.
Those who live in the city’s other districts, designated as low-risk, can leave Beijing, but in order to do so, they need to show a negative test result from the last seven days.
And getting a test is becoming increasingly difficult. Three testing centers told the BBC there'd be no tests available until July, while residents are lining up for hours outside those centers that do have tests.
One reason citizens in low-risk parts of the city have been unable to access tests easily is that the government is conducting a huge testing effort focusing on high-risk groups.
The authorities said Wednesday they had conducted nucleic acid tests on 356,000 people since Saturday, and plan to conduct more tests on those linked to the food market.
The city will expand its testing capabilities to meet demand, Zhang Qiang, an official with Beijing's COVID-19 prevention team, said Wednesday, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.
But Beijing’s extreme efforts to contain the spread of the recent outbreak might be undermined by a revelation that the outbreak could have been spreading throughout the city for weeks without the authorities noticing.
“It is possible that there were already a lot of asymptomatic or mild carriers during [May], and that’s why there is a high amount of the virus in the environment,” Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told a meeting with public health officials in Shanghai on Tuesday, according to Caixin. “This is our estimation and needs to be further verified.”
Cover: Passengers wearing masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus check in at the Beijing Capital Airport terminal 3 in Beijing on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. The Chinese capital on Wednesday canceled more than 60% of commercial flights and raised the alert level amid a new coronavirus outbreak, state-run media reported. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)