Authorities in China’s capital Beijing rushed to contain a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a raucous 24-hour bar known for cheap liquor and large crowds on Monday, with millions subjected to mandatory testing and thousands subjected to targeted lockdowns.

The outbreak of nearly 200 cases linked to the city center Heaven Supermarket Bar, which had just reopened as Beijing curbs eased last week, demonstrates how difficult it will be for China to make a success of its “zero COVID” policy as much of the rest of the world chooses to learn how to live with the virus.

The resurgence of COVID infections is also creating fresh worries about the world’s second-largest economy’s prospects. China is still reeling from the two-month lockdown of Shanghai, its most populous city and commercial nerve center, which also shook global supply chains.

Dine-in service at Beijing restaurants resumed on June 6 after the city of 22 million people imposed various COVID curbs for more than a month. Many malls, gyms, and other venues were shuttered, and elements of the city’s public transportation system were halted. Millions of people were encouraged to work from home.

“We must now test every day. It’s inconvenient, but it’s important “said Cao, a 21-year-old local who owns a convenience shop in Chaoyang, Beijing’s biggest district, where the bar cluster was located. “The virus situation has hurt our business a bit, it’s down about 20-30 percent .”

On Monday, Chaoyang began a three-day mass testing program among its 3.5 million citizens. Approximately 10,000 close contacts of the bar’s clientele have been identified, and their residential structures have been placed under lockdown, as have certain scheduled school reopenings in the area.

According to Reuters’ eyewitnesses, queues snaked around several testing stations for more than 100 meters on Monday. Large metal barriers have been erected around several residential compounds, and people in hazmat suits have been spraying disinfectant nearby.

Heaven Supermarket Bar, modeled like a gigantic self-service liquor shop with seats, couches, and tables, restored its appeal among young, rowdy audiences hungry of socializing and partying during Beijing’s COVID restrictions last week, when dine-in bans were relaxed.

The pub, where clients peruse the aisles for everything from local heavy spirits to Belgian beer, is well-known among Beijing revelers for its tables covered with empty bottles and people dozing off on couches after midnight.

With over 200 COVID cases connected to the bar since June 9, officials have labeled the epidemic as “ferocious” and “explosive” with persons sick living or working in 14 of the capital’s 16 districts.

Officials have not remarked on the actual reason of the epidemic, nor have they explained why the degree of restrictions observed last month has not yet been reinstated.

The bar cluster was produced by gaps and carelessness in epidemic prevention, according to an editorial article published on Monday by the state-backed Beijing Evening News.

“At a time when… normalcy in the city is being restored,” the newspaper noted, “the fall of Heaven Supermarket Bar means that the hardship and effort of countless people has been in vain.”

If the infection spreads, the “consequences could be serious, and would be such that nobody would want to see,” according to the report.

Heaven Supermarket Bar and other surrounding businesses, including the Paradise Massage & Spa, were cordoned off, with police tape and security guards barricading the doors.

Authorities said a few customers and employees at the parlor would be briefly kept up for checks.

In all, Beijing recorded 51 instances on Sunday, compared to 65 the previous day, reflecting a countrywide trend of decreasing cases.

Shanghai, which finished mass testing for the majority of its 25 million citizens over the weekend after removing its lockdown and many of its limits at the beginning of the month, recorded 37 instances, an increase from 29.

As Beijing authorities dealt with new COVID cases in April, retail sales in the capital fell 16% year on year, while property sales fell 25%. Data for May, which is anticipated later this month, is also projected to be dismal.

Prior to the bar cases, there had been strong prospects for a June resurgence.

Source: Reuters

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