Over a month later, officials and experts who participated in Beijing’s anti-epidemic press briefing took off their masks once again, announcing China’s capital will downgrade its COVID-19 emergency response to Level III from Level II starting Monday, as zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in about two weeks, the virus incubation period.
Observers believe Beijing’s approach, which has effectively controlled the spread of the latest epidemic resurgence within 40 days, is especially valuable for other Chinese cities like the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Urumqi in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which see a new resurgence of COVID-19 as well as any sporadic outbreaks elsewhere in the country.
Urumqi has reported 30 confirmed cases as of Saturday, and has entered a “wartime mode” in the epidemic prevention and control. All kinds of gatherings and public activities were suspended, and closed management of communities started taking effect in Urumqi.
Hong Kong witnessed a record of new COVID-19 cases of more than 100 on Sunday, with total confirmed cases in the city exceeding the number of SARS cases in 2003.
Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times that the key to learn from Beijing’s anti-epidemic approach is to find the origin of the virus that caused the latest outbreak. Beijing quickly applied strict management in regions close to the Xinfadi wholesale market.
Since the origin of the latest outbreak is still unknown, Urumqi’s cautious tactics are sound. However, the Beijing approach emphasized no overreaction, but relied on detection, observation and isolation measures for close contacts, which is also worth learning, Yang said.
Urumqi is comprehensively carrying out epidemiological investigations and conducting thorough disinfection in key areas to eliminate sources of virus infection.
All quarantined people had undergone COVID-19 tests as of Sunday afternoon, and newly confirmed and asymptomatic cases are also among those quarantined, the Urumqi Center for Disease Prevention and Control said at a press conference on Sunday.
Wang Peiyu, a deputy head of Peking University’s School of Public Health, told the Global Times on Sunday that the “Beijing approach” is a model for other Chinese cities to deal with the sudden local outbreak, and serves as a feasible and effective way to contain the new resurgence within six weeks as well as sporadic outbreaks in the future.
The “Beijing approach,” according to Wang, means implementing measures in a precise and normal manner, rather than a complete lockdown as seen in the early stage of the Wuhan and Suifenhe outbreak.
To be precise, health authorities divided the city into different risk zones of different levels and conducted thorough and large-scale nucleic acid testing for key clusters and people in high-risk zones, Wang said, noting that it means people’s lives and work in low risk regions were not heavily affected.
Wang said there are three most important nodes when practicing the Beijing approach: the early detection of the case and place where an outbreak emanated; close contact tracing and large-scale epidemiological investigation; and multi-layer management on the risk level.
Both experts believe that the “Beijing approach” always means normal prevention measures, including personal hygiene and awareness of early detection and reporting.
According to the Beijing municipal government, under Level III, Beijing will maintain visitor capacity restrictions of 50 percent at tourist attractions, museums, gyms and libraries. Exhibitions, sports events and other activities will be gradually resumed. Dark, damp underground spaces with poor ventilation will no longer be used as business and trade venues.
Beijing will strictly enforce prevention and control measures at food markets, restaurants, construction sites, factories and other key sites, and establish a system for monitoring environmental health at food markets and reporting employees’ symptoms, said the municipal government officials.
Beijing hasn’t reported confirmed cases for 13 consecutive days since the new outbreak linked to the Xinfadi food market broke out on June 11. A total of 335 confirmed local cases were reported in Beijing, with 132 in hospitals and 203 cured and discharged from June 11 to July 18, according to the Beijing Municipal Health Commission.