Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak

Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak
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Customers wearing face masks shop live seafood at a Carrefour supermarket, following new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in Beijing, China June 17, 2020. (Reuters)
Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak
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People wearing face masks wait for the delivery of goods they ordered online in a residential area in Xicheng district which is under lockdown after a new COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak near the closed Xinfadi Market in Beijing on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak
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Medical workers stand on the roadside watching people who had their car number plates recorded in the area of the Xinfadi market where a new COVID-19 coronavirus cluster emerged last week, walk to do swab tests for the coronavirus at a testing centre in Beijing on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2020

Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak

Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak
  • All schools have been ordered to close again and return to online classes
  • Officials have closed 11 markets and disinfected thousands of food and beverage businesses in Beijing

BEIJING: Beijing’s airports canceled two-thirds of all flights on Wednesday and schools in the Chinese capital were closed again as authorities rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak and warned infections may rise.
The city reported 31 new cases while officials urged residents not to leave Beijing, with fears growing about a second wave of infections in China, which had largely brought the contagion under control since its emergence in Wuhan late last year.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been tested so far following the fresh outbreak, which is believed to have started in the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market.
Almost 30 residential compounds in the city are now under lockdown.
“Because the Xinfadi market is the largest marketplace selling daily necessities, with thousands of migrant workers and a large number of visitors, it is hard to control the spread,” said Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We may see a rise in confirmed cases in the coming days,” Pang told a regular press briefing.
Beijing has reported 137 infections over the past six days and 95 percent of them were “mild cases,” Pang said.
The city has ramped up its testing capacity and is gathering about 400,000 samples a day, said Zhang Qiang, an official from Beijing’s epidemic prevention task force.
Since June 13, 356,000 samples have been tested. That includes swabs from workers and visitors to different markets in Beijing and communities near to spots where outbreaks have been registered.
A shortage of expensive testing machines has led to delays in processing.
At least 1,255 scheduled flights were canceled Wednesday, state-run People’s Daily reported — nearly 70 percent of all trips to and from Beijing’s main airports.
The outbreak had already forced authorities to announce a travel ban for residents of “medium- or high-risk” areas of the city, while requiring all other residents to take nucleic acid tests in order to leave Beijing.
Several provinces were quarantining travelers from Beijing, where all schools — which had mostly reopened — have been ordered to close again and return to online classes.
Officials have closed 11 markets and disinfected thousands of food and beverage businesses in Beijing after the outbreak was detected.
In addition to the cluster in Beijing, two domestic cases — one in neighboring Hebei province and another in the eastern province of Zhejiang — were reported Wednesday, while there were 11 imported cases.
A local case was also reported in Tianjin, a large city located just outside Beijing to the southeast, state television announced late in the day.
The 22-year-old man, a hotel restaurant worker, reportedly had not left Tianjin in the two weeks before displaying symptoms — fueling speculation about another possible cluster.
Authorities have so far banned group sports, ordered people to wear masks in crowded enclosed spaces, and suspended inter-provincial group tours in response to the outbreak.
Bars in Beijing’s trendy Sanlitun area were ordered to shut down, while shops were seeing lighter foot traffic.
Officials said that since May 30, more than 200,000 people had visited Xinfadi market, which supplies more than 70 percent of Beijing’s fruit and vegetables.
Until the new outbreak, most of China’s recent cases were nationals returning from abroad as COVID-19 spread globally, and the government had all but declared victory against the disease.
China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the virus type found in the Beijing outbreak was a “major epidemic strain” in Europe.


India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive

India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive
Updated 4 min 44 sec ago

India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive

India starts world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive
  • India is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and has one of the biggest immunization programs
  • But there is no playbook for the enormity of the current challenge

NEW DELHI: India started inoculating health workers Saturday in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign, joining the ranks of wealthier nations where the effort is already well underway.
India is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and has one of the biggest immunization programs. But there is no playbook for the enormity of the current challenge.
Indian authorities hope to give shots to 300 million people, roughly the population of the USand several times more than its existing program that targets 26 million infants. The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers, to be followed by 270 million people who are either over 50 years old or have illnesses that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.
For workers who have pulled India’s battered health care system through the pandemic, the shots offered confidence that life can start returning to normal. Many burst with pride.
“I am excited that I am among the first to get the vaccine,” Gita Devi, a nurse, said as she lifted her left sleeve to receive the shot.
“I am happy to get an India-made vaccine and that we do not have to depend on others for it,” said Devi, who has treated patients throughout the pandemic in a hospital in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state in India’s heartland.
The first dose was administered to a sanitation worker at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in the capital, New Delhi, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted the campaign with a nationally televised speech.
“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said. He implored citizens to keep their guard up and not to believe any “rumors about the safety of the vaccines.”
It was not clear whether Modi, 70, had received the vaccine himself like other world leaders to try to demonstrate the shot’s safety. His government has said politicians will not be considered priority groups in the first phase of the rollout.
Health officials haven’t specified what percentage of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people will be targeted by the campaign. But experts say it will almost certainly be the largest such drive globally.
The sheer scale has its obstacles and some early snags were identified. For instance, there were delays in uploading the details of health care workers receiving the shots to a digital platform that India is using to track vaccines, the Health Ministry said.
Shots were given to at least 165,714 people on Saturday, Dr. Manohar Agnani, a Health Ministry official, said at an evening briefing. The ministry had said that it was aiming to vaccinate 100 people in each of the 3,006 centers across the country.
News cameras captured the injections across hundreds of hospitals, underscoring the pent-up hopes that vaccination was the first step in getting past the pandemic that has devastated the lives of so many Indians and bruised the country’s economy.
India on Jan. 4 approved emergency use of two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots to different Indian cities last week.
But doubts over the effectiveness of the homegrown vaccine is creating hurdles for the ambitious plan.
Health experts worry that the regulatory shortcut taken to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine without waiting for concrete data that would show its efficacy in preventing illness from the coronavirus could amplify vaccine hesitancy. At least one state health minister has opposed its use.
In New Delhi, doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, one of the largest in the city, demanded they be administered the AstraZeneca vaccine instead of the one developed by Bharat Biotech. A doctors union at the hospital said many of its members were a “bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial” for the homegrown vaccine.
“Right now, we don’t have the option to choose between the vaccines,” said Dr. Nirmalaya Mohapatra, vice president of the hospital’s Resident Doctors Association.
The Health Ministry has bristled at the criticism and says the vaccines are safe, but maintains that health workers will have no choice in deciding which vaccine they will get themselves.
According to Dr. S.P. Kalantri, the director of a rural hospital in Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state, such an approach was worrying because he said the regulatory approval was hasty and not backed by science.
“In a hurry to be populist, the government (is) taking decisions that might not be in the best interest of the common man,” Kalantri said.
Against the backdrop of the rising global COVID-19 death toll — it topped 2 million on Friday — the clock is ticking to vaccinate as many people as possible. But the campaign has been uneven.
In wealthy countries including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, millions of citizens have already been given some measure of protection by vaccines developed with revolutionary speed and quickly authorized for use.
But elsewhere, immunization drives have barely gotten off the ground. Many experts are predicting another year of loss and hardship in places like Iran, India, Mexico and Brazil, which together account for about a quarter of the world’s COVID-19 deaths.
India is second to the US with more than 10.5 million confirmed cases, and ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the US and Brazil, with over 152,000.
More than 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford.
While the majority of the COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been snapped up by wealthy countries, COVAX, a UN-backed project to supply shots to developing parts of the world, has found itself short of vaccines, money and logistical help.
As a result, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, warned this week that it is highly unlikely that herd immunity — which would require at least 70% of the globe to be vaccinated — will be achieved this year.
“Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” she said.