Fears of a hard Covid lockdown sparked panic buying in Beijing as long queues formed on Monday in a large central district for mass testing ordered by the Chinese authorities.
China was already trying to contain a wave of infections in its largest city Shanghai, which has been almost entirely locked down for weeks and reported 51 new Covid deaths on Monday.
Shanghai has struggled to provide fresh food to those confined at home, while patients have reported trouble accessing non-Covid medical care — and the rising cases in the capital triggered fears of a similar lockdown.
Downtown Beijing’s biggest district Chaoyang, home to around 3.5 million people, ordered mass testing from Monday for residents and those coming to work there — the area hosts the headquarters of many multinational firms and embassies.
Queues snaked around malls and outside office complexes on Monday as people waited to be swabbed for samples by health workers in protective gear.
“If a single case is found, this area could be affected,” said office worker Yao Leiming, 25, as he headed for a testing site in Chaoyang with a group of his colleagues.
The mass testing order, and warnings of a “grim” Covid situation in the city, sparked a run on Beijing’s supermarkets on Sunday as residents rushed to stockpile essentials.
People were seen pushing shopping carts stacked with food, while many items were sold out on grocery delivery apps when checked by AFP on Sunday — especially for deliveries to Chaoyang.
Many of the capital’s fitness studios and gyms have cancelled classes or closed.
Beijing has also imposed tight controls on entry to the city, with travellers required to have a negative Covid test from within 48 hours.
China has been struggling to defeat its worst outbreak in two years with its zero-Covid playbook, which includes strict lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.
Officials say this policy has helped China avoid the large-scale public health disasters seen elsewhere in the world during the Covid crisis, but the approach has taken a heavy toll on businesses and public morale.