Beijing residents rush coronavirus test clinics as emergency rules expand

Beijing has expanded daily testing capacity to 90,000, but the new program puts a strain on resources. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 June 2020

Beijing residents rush coronavirus test clinics as emergency rules expand

  • Residents now require a negative result on a nucleic acid test to travel, officials say
  • Beijing has expanded daily testing capacity to 90,000, but the new program puts a strain on resources

BEIJING: China’s capital has mandated coronavirus tests for hundreds of thousands of people as it widens measures against a new outbreak of the disease that has sent anxious residents flooding to clinics for voluntary tests, putting a strain on the system.
Crowds of masked people waiting for tests have become a common sight in recent days across Beijing, which has tested more than 350,000 people, with many more expected.
“It’s very difficult right now,” said musician Chen Weiwen, 31, whose plans to visit the southwestern city of Chengdu faced a delay because of the wait for a test.
“I don’t mind waiting, but after the test I need to leave in 7 days and there may not be a flight I can get then.”
The measures are part of the city’s “wartime” response to a surge of 158 infections since last week, the majority linked to its huge Xinfadi wholesale food center.
Residents now require a negative result on a nucleic acid test to travel, officials say, as well as to visit some attractions or return to work in industries that involve food handling.
That is in addition to mandatory tests for those with direct links to the market and their close contacts, as well as people in surrounding neighborhoods and frontline health workers.
That could be a large number, as officials say about 200,000 people from all over Beijing have visited Xinfadi since May 30.
“Testing efficiency is high,” Pan Xuhong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, said on Thursday.
“Those who need to leave Beijing can safely do so once tested negative in a nucleic acid test.”
Staff at a restaurant in the southern Fengtai district said that health workers had tested every employee.
At the same time, state media warned that supplies in the city of 21 million could be strained, and Reuters checks showed waiting times for voluntary appointments stretched to weeks or months in some places.
China, a top producer of nucleic acid tests, could turn out up to 5 million a day, authorities said last month. Beijing has expanded daily testing capacity to 90,000, but the new program puts a strain on resources.
“Some citizens spontaneously go to medical institutions or fever clinics for (tests) and crowding occurs,” the state-run Beijing Daily newspaper said.
That in turn heightened infection risks and pressure on the supply of materials and testing capacity, it added.
A Reuters check showed many testing facilities inundated by those seeking voluntary tests, with bookings filled as soon they opened on the city’s official app.
Just one of 11 test sites telephoned by Reuters answered. The First Medical Center of the People’s Liberation Army Hospital said its next available slot was a month away.
The Beijing effort is China’s latest mass testing exercise, though it is more focused than a similar program in Wuhan, the central city where the virus first surfaced last year, that had tested more than 6 million people in less than 10 days.
In Beijing, people marshalled for mandatory tests in converted parks and sports fields said test times were designated for them in door-to-door checks forming part of a contact tracing campaign.
Those without tickets distributed by organizers would be turned away, one organizer said.


Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

Updated 13 min 36 sec ago

Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

  • “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said
  • He hailed the text saying it is “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France”

PARIS:President Emmanuel Macron praised French Muslim leaders on Monday after they agreed on a “charter of principles” aimed at combatting sectarianism and radicalized teachings blamed for a surge in jihadist attacks in France in recent years.
The charter offers “a clarification of how the Muslim community is organized,” Macron said after a meeting with representatives of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), his office said.
It will also provide a framework for a new National Council of Imams that will be responsible for vetting imams practicing in the country.
“This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.”
Macron had urged the council to act against “political Islam” in November after the killing of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded outside his school after showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed as part of a free-speech lesson.
The attack prompted a crackdown against extremist mosques and Islamist associations, along with a vigorous defense of French secularism.
The new 10-point charter “states clearly that the principles of the Muslim faith are perfectly compatible with the principles of the republic,” CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui told journalists after the meeting.
The accord was hammered out Saturday during a meeting with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values.
Moussaoui said all eight of the CFCM’s federations, representing various strands of Islam, approved the charter, but three had yet to sign the accord because “they need a bit more time to explain what it means to their followers,” an Elysee official said.
Hakim El Karoui, an author and expert on Islam in France, called the intention of the charter “praiseworthy,” but said it also shone a harsh light on internal tensions at the CFCM which he said consists of “five federations financed by foreign countries and three federations that are Islamist.”
El Karoui said “the charter was adopted by people whose interests clash with the text.”
Franck Fregosi, an Islam expert at research institute CNRS, said no other country, and no other religion in France, had a comparable charter.
“I’m not certain that this text, even once it gets signed, will get wide backing from Islam on the ground,” he said.
The imam of the mosque in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Tariq Oubrou, said the charter had been developed back-to-front.
“It should be Muslim scholars and theologians who write a text and then submit it to the CFCM, not the other way around,” he said.
The charter rejects “instrumentalising” Islam for political ends and affirms equality between men and women, while denouncing practices such as female circumcision, forced marriages and “virginity certificates” for brides.
“No religious conviction whatsoever can be invoked as an exemption from the duties of citizens,” it states.
It also explicitly rejects racism and anti-Semitism, and warns that mosques “are not created for the spreading of nationalist speech defending foreign regimes.”
Macron has also said that authorities plan to expel the roughly 300 imams in France sent to teach from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria.
The charter accord comes as a parliamentary commission began debate Monday over a new draft law to fight “pernicious” Islamist radicalism with measures to ensure France’s strict separation of religious bodies and state in the public sphere.
The legislation would tighten rules on issues from religious-based education to polygamy, though Macron has insisted the goal is to protect all French citizens without stigmatising the country’s estimated four to five million Muslims, the largest number in Europe.