Beijing residents rush coronavirus test clinics as emergency rules expand

Beijing has expanded daily testing capacity to 90,000, but the new program puts a strain on resources. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 June 2020

Beijing residents rush coronavirus test clinics as emergency rules expand

  • Residents now require a negative result on a nucleic acid test to travel, officials say
  • Beijing has expanded daily testing capacity to 90,000, but the new program puts a strain on resources

BEIJING: China’s capital has mandated coronavirus tests for hundreds of thousands of people as it widens measures against a new outbreak of the disease that has sent anxious residents flooding to clinics for voluntary tests, putting a strain on the system.
Crowds of masked people waiting for tests have become a common sight in recent days across Beijing, which has tested more than 350,000 people, with many more expected.
“It’s very difficult right now,” said musician Chen Weiwen, 31, whose plans to visit the southwestern city of Chengdu faced a delay because of the wait for a test.
“I don’t mind waiting, but after the test I need to leave in 7 days and there may not be a flight I can get then.”
The measures are part of the city’s “wartime” response to a surge of 158 infections since last week, the majority linked to its huge Xinfadi wholesale food center.
Residents now require a negative result on a nucleic acid test to travel, officials say, as well as to visit some attractions or return to work in industries that involve food handling.
That is in addition to mandatory tests for those with direct links to the market and their close contacts, as well as people in surrounding neighborhoods and frontline health workers.
That could be a large number, as officials say about 200,000 people from all over Beijing have visited Xinfadi since May 30.
“Testing efficiency is high,” Pan Xuhong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, said on Thursday.
“Those who need to leave Beijing can safely do so once tested negative in a nucleic acid test.”
Staff at a restaurant in the southern Fengtai district said that health workers had tested every employee.
At the same time, state media warned that supplies in the city of 21 million could be strained, and Reuters checks showed waiting times for voluntary appointments stretched to weeks or months in some places.
China, a top producer of nucleic acid tests, could turn out up to 5 million a day, authorities said last month. Beijing has expanded daily testing capacity to 90,000, but the new program puts a strain on resources.
“Some citizens spontaneously go to medical institutions or fever clinics for (tests) and crowding occurs,” the state-run Beijing Daily newspaper said.
That in turn heightened infection risks and pressure on the supply of materials and testing capacity, it added.
A Reuters check showed many testing facilities inundated by those seeking voluntary tests, with bookings filled as soon they opened on the city’s official app.
Just one of 11 test sites telephoned by Reuters answered. The First Medical Center of the People’s Liberation Army Hospital said its next available slot was a month away.
The Beijing effort is China’s latest mass testing exercise, though it is more focused than a similar program in Wuhan, the central city where the virus first surfaced last year, that had tested more than 6 million people in less than 10 days.
In Beijing, people marshalled for mandatory tests in converted parks and sports fields said test times were designated for them in door-to-door checks forming part of a contact tracing campaign.
Those without tickets distributed by organizers would be turned away, one organizer said.


Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

Updated 18 min 54 sec ago

Belarus authorities free detainees amid protesters’ pressure

  • Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails
  • The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police

MINSK, Belarus: Belarusian authorities have released dozens of people detained amid demonstrations contesting the results of the presidential election, in an attempt to assuage public anger against a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests.
Around midnight, scores of detainees were seen walking out of one of Minsk’s jails. In the early morning, volunteers also saw at least 119 detainees being released in the сity of Zhodino just northeast of the Belarusian capital. Ambulances arrived to carry those who apparently were unable to walk on their own.
The releases came hours after Belarus’ top law enforcement official apologized on state television for the indiscriminate use of force by police. “I take responsibility for what they say was violence against those people, who happened to be nearby and failed to back off quickly enough,” Interior Minister Yuri Karayev said late Thursday.
The apologies and the release of detainees follow five days of massive protests, in which crowds of demonstrators swarmed the streets to contest the vote results and demand an end to the 26-year rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. On Thursday, thousands of workers rallied outside industrial plants to denounce the police crackdown and push for a recount of Sunday’s vote.
Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in the clampdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his top opposition challenger only 10%. Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings.
On Thursday, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity” in several areas of the capital, Minsk. Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of detained loved ones.
The human chains grew throughout the day, filling Minsk’s main central squares and avenues and spreading to numerous other cities as motorists honked in support. In Minsk and several other cities, thousands of factory workers also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge to the government. Protesters were shouting “Go away!” to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
Amid growing public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms and insignia in the trash. Several popular anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit.
The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders. The top opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, suddenly emerged Tuesday in neighboring Lithuania and called on her supporters to stop protests in a video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left. The 37-year-old former teacher had joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May.
The massive protests against election results and police brutality have been an unprecedented challenge to Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” for his relentless crackdown on dissent. The scope and ferocity of the police clampdown were remarkable even for Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule, triggering widespread anger.
After dismissing protesters as mostly ex-convicts and unemployed, the authoritarian leader kept silent Thursday as the demonstrations spread quickly. Some reports said he was preparing an address to the nation.
A protester died Monday in Minsk when, according to the Interior Ministry, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Media reports challenged the ministry’s claim, alleging that he was killed by police. The place where he died quickly turned into a pilgrimage site, with hundreds of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers there.
The authorities said that a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear.
The brutal suppression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.
European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the 27-nation bloc would “increase the pressure” on Belarus.