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Six months after the coronavirus first emerged in China, and several months after the Chinese government had declared victory over the outbreak, Beijing went back into lockdown again on Monday following a new outbreak of COVID-19 in the capital.
And just like six months ago, the outbreak is linked to a market, and some Chinese officials are attempting to downplay the seriousness of the situation.
Officials in Beijing are racing to track down some 200,000 people believed to have visited the Xinfadi food market in the last three weeks.
Health experts said Monday that Beijing is now in “wartime emergency mode” and that 11 residential districts close to the food market in the city's southwestern Fengtai district were being locked down again.
That means no one is allowed to enter or leave the districts, and residents will have their temperatures checked on a daily basis. Food and other necessities will be delivered to residents.
Video footage posted by China’s state-run media over the weekend showed paramilitary police officers patrolling the market after it was shut down on Saturday.
Officials in Beijing have also banned all tourists from entering the city, while some provinces have announced a mandatory three-week quarantine for anyone returning from the capital.
China’s National Health Commission announced 36 new cases in Beijing on Monday, bringing the total in the city to 79 cases since last Thursday. Almost all are linked to the food market.
The city has set up several hundred testing sites, and on Sunday alone more than 75,000 people linked to the market were tested.
Prior to this outbreak, Beijing had experienced 56 days without a single new confirmed locally transmitted case of COVID-19.
Possibly more worrying for the Chinese government is confirmation that the outbreak has spread beyond Beijing’s borders, with confirmed cases in the provinces of Liaoning and Hebei found to be close contacts of patients in Beijing.
The new outbreak has rocked China and raised concerns that the country could already be in the early days of a second wave of the pandemic.
For months, China has touted its success in defeating the coronavirus, and in recent weeks has ratcheted up its criticism of how the U.S. has handed the pandemic, pointing to the relatively low death toll recorded by Beijing.
In the wake of the latest outbreak, some Chinese officials have once again used social media platforms to downplay the threat from the latest cluster of infections, something they did during the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan in January.
Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-run Global Times tweeted Sunday that “there is no way Beijing becomes Wuhan 2.0” and that economic recovery “won't be disrupted.”
Since the virus first emerged in Wuhan in December, more than 420,000 people have died globally, with almost 8 million confirmed infections.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has not commented publicly on the latest outbreak, but he has always said that it was important that the capital Beijing remained a fortress against the virus.
“The safety and stability of the capital directly concerns the broader outlook for the party and the country,” Xi said in February.
Cover: A resident wearing a face mask to curb the spread of the coronavirus browses meat products at a supermarket in Beijing, Monday, June 15, 2020. China's capital was bracing Monday for a resurgence of the coronavirus after more than 100 new cases were reported in recent days in a city that hadn't seen a case of local transmission in more than a month. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)