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Panic buying in Beijing over Covid-19 testing

Customers buy instant noodles, following the Covid-19 outbreak, at a supermarket in Beijing, China April 25, 2022. [Reuters]

Beijing residents snapped up food and other supplies as the city’s biggest district began mass Covid-19 testing of all residents on Monday, prompting fears of a Shanghai-style lockdown after dozens of cases in the capital in recent days.

Authorities in Chaoyang, home to 3.45 million people, late on Sunday ordered residents and those who work there to be tested three times this week as Beijing warned the virus had “stealthily” spread in the city for about a week before being detected.

“I’m preparing for the worst,” said a graduate student in the nearby Haidian district surnamed Zhang, who placed online orders for dozens of snacks and 10 pounds of apples.

Shoppers in the city crowded stores and online platforms to stock up on leafy vegetables, fresh meat, instant noodles and rolls of toilet paper. In Shanghai, where most of its 25 million residents have been locked down for weeks, the main food supply bottleneck has been the lack of enough couriers to make deliveries to homes, fuelling anger among residents.

In Beijing, supermarket chains including Carrefour and Wumart said they had more than doubled inventories, while Meituan’s grocery-focused e-commerce platform increased stocks and the number of staffers for sorting and delivery, according to the state-backed Beijing Daily.

Since Friday, Beijing has reported 70 locally transmitted cases in eight of its 16 districts, with Chaoyang accounting for 46 of the total, said a local health official on Monday.

Even in districts such as Haidian that have yet to report any cases in the current outbreak, there is a sense of growing unease over food supply.

While the Chinese capital’s caseload is small compared with those globally and the hundreds of thousands in Shanghai, Chaoyang district told residents to reduce public activities, although most schools, stores and offices remained open.

Beijing’s Chaoyang district is home to many wealthy residents, most foreign embassies as well as entertainment venues and corporate headquarters. It has little manufacturing.

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