Ng Han Guan/AP
BEIJING (AP) — Residents of the Chinese capital emptied supermarket shelves and crushed delivery apps Friday as the city government ordered the accelerated construction of COVID-19 quarantine centers and field hospitals.
Uncertainty and scattered, unconfirmed reports of a lockdown of at least some districts in Beijing have fueled demand for food and other supplies that hasn’t been seen in the city for months.
Daily COVID-19 cases across the country are hitting record highs, with 32,695 reported on Friday. Of those, 1,860 were in Beijing, the majority of them asymptomatic.
Makeshift quarantine centers and field hospitals hastily thrown into gymnasiums, exhibition centers and other large open indoor spaces have become notorious for their overcrowding, poor hygiene, shortage of food and lights that stay on 24 hours a day.
Most residents of the city have already been advised not to leave their premises, some of which are fenced. At entrances, workers dressed head-to-toe in white hazmat suits stop unauthorized people and ensure residents scan health apps on their cellphones to enter. .
Some of Beijing’s grocery delivery services have reached capacity.
A surge in demand combined with a labor shortage prevented some customers from booking same-day slots Friday for food and supplies from popular online grocery services such as Alibaba’s Freshippo and Meituan Maicai.
Online, some Chinese users said there were delivery people whose premises were locked, contributing to the labor shortage. The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm this information.
Alibaba did not immediately comment.
At a press conference on Friday afternoon, city government spokesperson Xu Hejian said it was necessary to “strengthen the management and service guarantee” of quarantine centers and hospitals. campaign where those who test positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with an infected person are transported by the police.
Authorities should “further expedite” their construction and “coordinate the allocation of space, facilities, materials, personnel and other resources,” Xu said.
In recent days, officials have repeatedly insisted that China must stick to its hardline “zero-COVID” policy which imposes lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having been in contact with the virus. The policy is seen as damaging the economy and disrupting lives in many Chinese cities, leading the World Health Organization and others to call for a change of course – calls the ruling Communist Party has rejected with anger.