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.


Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department

Updated 16 January 2021

Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department

WASHINGTON: The lead US negotiator of the Iran nuclear accord and a battle-tested hawk on Russia were named Saturday to top posts at President-elect Joe Biden’s State Department, signaling a return to normal after Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency.
Wendy Sherman, who brokered the Iran accord under Barack Obama and negotiated a nuclear deal with North Korea under Bill Clinton, was named as deputy secretary of state.
Victoria Nuland, a former career diplomat best known for her robust support for Ukrainian protesters in the ouster of a Russian-aligned president, was nominated under secretary for political affairs — the State Department’s third-ranking post in charge of day-to-day US diplomacy.
Biden said that the State Department nominees “have secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory.”
“I am confident that they will use their diplomatic experience and skill to restore America’s global and moral leadership. America is back,” Biden said in a statement.
The State Department team will work under secretary of state-designate Antony Blinken, whose confirmation hearing will take place on Tuesday on the eve of Biden’s inauguration.
Blinken said that the State Department team, with women and ethnic minorities in prominent positions, “looks like America.”
“America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other country on earth to mobilize others to meet the challenges of our time,” Blinken said.
The optimism comes amid rising doubts about US leadership in Trump’s waning days after his supporters ransacked the Capitol on January 6 to try to stop the ceremonial certification of Biden’s victory.
Under outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch defender of Trump, the United States has aggressively challenged Iran and China, robustly backed Israel and toyed with improving ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while also imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Sherman’s nomination marks another clear sign that Biden wants to return to the accord under which Iran drastically slashed its nuclear program in exchange for promises of sanctions relief.
Trump exited the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions in what many observers saw as an unsuccessful attempt to topple the Shiite clerical regime.