By Han Guan/AP
BEIJING (AP) — Residents of China’s capital emptied massive supermarket shelves and delivery apps on Friday as the city government ordered an accelerated construction of COVID-19 quarantine centers and field hospitals.
The uncertainty and sporadic, unconfirmed reports of at least some Beijing neighborhoods being locked down have fueled demand for food and other supplies, something not seen in the city for months.
Daily cases of COVID-19 across the country set records, with 32,695 reported on Friday. Of these, 1,860 were in Beijing, most of them asymptomatic.
Improvised quarantine centers and field hospitals hastily set up in gymnasiums, exhibition centers and other large, open indoor spaces have become notorious for overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of food supplies and lights that stay on for 24 hours.
Most of the city’s residents have already been advised not to leave their apartment complexes, some of which have been fenced off. At the entrances, workers in head-to-toe protective white overalls stop unauthorized persons and ensure that residents check their health apps on mobile phones to enter.
Some grocery delivery services in Beijing have reached capacity.
An increase in demand coupled with a shortage of workers has left some customers unable to book same-day Friday slots to buy food and supplies from popular online grocery services like Alibaba’s Freshippo and Meituan Maicai.
Online, some Chinese users said there were delivery workers whose compounds were closed, which contributed to the shortage of workers. The Associated Press could not independently confirm these reports.
Alibaba did not immediately comment.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, city government spokesman Xu Hejian said it was necessary to “strengthen management and guarantee service” for quarantine centers and field hospitals where those who tested positive for COVID-19 or had close contact with an infected person. They are taken away by the police.
Xu said authorities should “speed up” its construction and “coordinate the allocation of space, facilities, materials, personnel and other resources.”
Officials have in recent days repeatedly insisted that China must stick to its hardline “zero COVID” policy mandating lockdowns and mass testing and quarantining anyone suspected of having contact with the virus. The policy is seen as taking a huge toll on the economy and upending life in many Chinese cities, prompting the World Health Organization and others to call for a change of course — calls the ruling Communist Party angrily rejected.