BEIJING — The number of new coronavirus cases in a fresh outbreak in the Chinese capital of Beijing passed 100 Tuesday, according to health officials who have rushed to impose restrictions across the densely populated city.
The latest flare-up of COVID-19 cases alarmed Chinese authorities this week, who are clamoring to stop the spread after a cluster of new cases was linked to a wholesale food market in the southwest of Beijing. The first new case was confirmed June 11 — previously the city had gone 56 days without any new cases.
The sprawling Xinfadi market supplies Beijing with 80 percent of its food and is said to be the largest wholesale agricultural market in Asia.
Health officials said the structure of the virus detected there did not look like the strain that appeared in Beijing two months ago, with some linking it to imported salmon — possibly from Europe — after samples from cutting boards and counters from the market tested positive.
Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with The People's Daily, a state newspaper, on Monday that this was one theory being looked at, but that investigations were ongoing.
The Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said Monday it would also take samples from wholesale and import markets as a precaution but stressed that there was no evidence that COVID-19 spread through food.
"I think we need to look at what has happened in this case. I don't believe it is the primary hypothesis, but it needs to be explored," Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization said Monday, commenting on the Beijing spike.
As of Tuesday, China's National Health Commission reported 106 cases of the coronavirus in total in Beijing, with 27 new cases reported in the city Monday. It is the most serious flare-up in China since February, stoking fears of a second wave of the disease, which began in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
The coronavirus has so far killed 4,634 people in China, according to the health commission, far lower numbers than in Europe and the United States.
While not in a Wuhan-style lockdown, the Chinese capital has gone into a "wartime" mode on a district level, said officials, with local neighborhoods instituting 24-hour security checkpoints and closing schools.
The Beijing municipal government announced Tuesday that it was raising its emergency response level from three to two, meaning residents are advised not to leave the capital unless necessary.
Starting Wednesday, primary and secondary school students, as well as university students will stop attending class and kindergartens will close, said Chen Bei, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing Municipal Government.
People living or working in so-called high-risk streets and the Xinfadi market are prohibited from leaving Beijing, Chen said. Other residents are advised not to leave unless necessary.
Overnight, some parts of the capital, including the city's old-style hutong neighborhoods were walled up, with entry and exit restricted to a few round-the-clock security checkpoints.
"Beijing will take the most resolute, decisive, and strict measures to contain the outbreak," Xu Hejian, spokesman for the Beijing city government, said at a press conference Tuesday.
Authorities have jumped to mobilize mass testing, with tens of thousands of people already swabbed at sites set up at sport stadiums and drive-through locations across the capital. So far, the city has traced nearly 200,000 people who have visited the market since May 30, city officials said.
In Shanghai, China's financial hub, the health commission said Tuesday that travelers from Beijing would be quarantined for 14 days on entering the city.
The capital could also become a "no-go zone" for people from the rest of the country, according to reports in the state-run Global Times newspaper. Holidaymakers and business people have delayed or canceled trips there, while locals in Beijing fear after almost half a year of lockdown measures that their vacation plans for the upcoming Dragon Boat summer festival this month could be curtailed.
Reuters contributed to this report.