The Chinese central government on Sunday completely locked down Anxin County in Hebei Province and its 500,000 inhabitants to curtail a new cluster of COVID-19 infections that appeared to originate from neighboring Beijing.
Anxin is located 150 km (90 miles) to the south of Beijing, which is also inside, but separate from, Hebei Province. Some 12 new COVID-19 cases have been detected in Anxin. Of this total, 11 are linked to the huge Xinfadi wholesale market in Beijing. Anxin has also been locked down because some of its businesses supply freshwater fish to the Xinfadi market.
The National Health Commission (NHC) said Anxin will be "fully enclosed and controlled." Observers note these were the same precautions announced by Beijing when it locked down Wuhan city in Hubei province, the erstwhile epicenter of the pandemic in China, in mid-January.
Under the strict lockdown rules, only one person from each family will be allowed to leave their homes once a day to purchase necessities such as food and medicine. NHC said the Anxin lockdown was imposed after another 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported over the past 24 hours in Beijing.
The new casualties bring to 311 the number of new cases since mid-June. The ongoing outbreak in Beijing was first detected in the city's sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market, which supplies some 80% of the city's fresh produce and 10% of its meat. The presence of COVID-19 in this key market ignited fears over food safety and concerns over higher prices and food shortages.
NHC revealed close to a third of the new COVID-19 cases have been traced to one beef and mutton section at the Xinfadi market. It said it's mass-tested market workers and restaurant workers at the sprawling market. It's also tested residents of medium and high-risk neighborhoods and delivery couriers over the past two weeks.
Testing has been greatly expanded to include all employees of the city's beauty parlors and hair salons. The pandemic situation in Beijing is described as "severe and complicated" by Xu Hejian, spokesperson for the Beijing municipal government and director of its information office. Xu warned Beijing has to continue tracing the spread of the disease.
NHC is concerned the new cases in Beijing and Anxin might trigger a resurgence of COVID-19 throughout China, which declared itself almost completely free of COVID-19 in April.
Dr. Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist at Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, previously declared "Beijing will not turn into a second Wuhan, spreading the virus to many cities all across the country and even needing a lockdown."