New Beijing COVID-19 outbreak is 'reminder we are still in early stages of pandemic', expert warns

Residents line up to get tested at a coronavirus testing centre set up outside a sports facility in Beijing. (AP)

A new COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing should serve as a “reminder we are still in early stages of the pandemic”, a UK expert has warned. 

China’s capital cancelled scores of flights, shut schools and blocked off some neighbourhoods as it ramped up efforts to contain an outbreak that has fanned fears of wider contagion.

Health officials reported 31 new coronavirus infections for Tuesday, taking cumulative cases since 11 June to 137 in the city’s worst resurgence in four months, with 356,000 people tested since Sunday.

Dr Tom Wingfield, senior clinical lecturer and honorary consultant physician at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, has said the outbreak shows the UK is still in danger.

Dr Wingfield said: “The COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing serves as a reminder that, despite the UK having passed through the first wave of COVID-19, we still remain in the early stages of the pandemic.

“In the absence of herd immunity through either an effective vaccine or immunity following  infection, the majority of the population – both in the UK and globally – remains at risk of COVID-19 if exposed to SARS-CoV-2 [the coronavirus].”

There have been concerns the UK is easing lockdown too soon after authorities again relaxed restrictions on Monday to allow a wider range of shops to open.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has previously questioned why restrictions were being eased when the alert level had not changed from level four.

Boris Johnson responded by saying the UK had been able to ease lockdown because the government’s five tests for doing so had been met. 

Shoppers outside Primark on Oxford Street, London, as non-essential shops in England reopen. (Getty Images)

Dr Wingfield added: “It is inevitable that there will continue to be outbreaks, even in countries with very low numbers of COVID-19 cases per day such as China.

“Swift and coordinated responses to such outbreaks at regional, national, and international levels will be key to breaking transmission and preventing further spread of the virus. 

“These responses are likely to include targeted testing and tracing and reinstatement of lockdown measures such as social distancing and travel restrictions. 

“It is also likely that rather than being a blanket national policy, responses will instead be focused on specific hotspot areas affected by outbreaks.”

People wearing face masks near the closed Xinfadi Market in Beijing. (Getty)

The Xinfadi market in Beijing to which the new outbreak has been traced was the capital’s largest trading centre for farm produce, with high levels of product traffic and clusters of people, said Pang Xinghuo, a senior disease control official.

Although roads and highways in Beijing were still open and companies and factories had not been told to halt work, authorities stepped up movement control measures on Wednesday.

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