Panic buying in Beijing as government orders construction of COVID-19 quarantine centers

BEIJING (AP) — Residents in the Chinese capital emptied supermarket shelves and overwhelmed delivery apps on Friday as the city government ordered accelerated construction of COVID-19 quarantine centers and field hospitals.

Uncertainty and isolated, unconfirmed reports of a lockdown at least in some Beijing districts have fueled demand for food and other supplies, something the city hasn’t seen in months.

Daily cases of COVID-19 across the country are hitting records, with 32,695 reported on Friday. Of these, 1,860 were in Beijing, most of them asymptomatic.

Makeshift quarantine centers and field hospitals hastily erected in gymnasiums, exhibition centers and other large, open indoor spaces are notorious for overcrowding, poor sanitation, scarce food supplies and 24-hour light.

Most of the city’s residents have already been advised not to leave their properties, some of which are fenced off. At the entrances, workers dressed in head-to-toe white hazmat suits stop trespassers and have residents scan their cellphone health apps to gain entry.

Some of the food delivery services in Beijing have reached capacity.

Soaring demand coupled with a labor shortage meant some customers were unable to book slots on groceries and supplies from popular online grocery services like Alibaba’s BABA on Friday.
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Freshippo and Meituan Maicai.

Online, some Chinese users said there were delivery workers whose connections were blocked, contributing to the labor shortage. The Associated Press could not independently confirm these reports.

Alibaba did not immediately comment.

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, city government spokesman Xu Hejian said there was a need to strengthen “the management and service guarantee” of quarantine centers and field hospitals that house those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are in close contact with a infected person were taken away by the police.

Authorities must “further accelerate” its construction and “coordinate the allocation of space, facilities, materials, personnel and other resources,” Xu said.

Officials have repeatedly insisted in recent days that China must stick to its hard-line “zero-COVID” policy, which mandates lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having been in contact with the virus. Politics are understood to be taking a harsh toll on the economy and turning life upside down in many Chinese cities, prompting the World Health Organization and others to call for a change of course – demands the ruling Communist Party has angrily rejected .

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