It comes after a study suggested a new strain of the illness had arrived in the capital and infected more than 300 people, since early June, and may have originally been imported from elsewhere in Asia. Local authorities have been ordered to put emergency response plans in place to help them rapidly expand nucleic test capacity, the National Health Commission said in guidance issued on its website. Nucleic acid test results must be delivered within six hours for patients at fever clinics and within a day for those who volunteer to be tested, according to the directive.
Two of the new infections were imported cases, the National Health Commission said in a statement, while Beijing reported one new case.
There were no new deaths. China also reported two new asymptomatic patients, one fewer than a day earlier.
Testing capacity must be stepped up, the guidance says
Passengers in protective suits at Beijing’s airport
As of July 1, mainland China had a total of 83,537 confirmed coronavirus cases, the NHC said.
China’s official death toll from the coronavirus remains at 4,634 – although the figure has been hotly disputed, with Liu Pei’en, whose father died at the beginning of February, believing the figure could be ten times higher.
A study, published by Harvard University researchers, suggested the strain which triggered fresh cases in Beijing could have originated in South or Southeast Asia.
Members of the public wait in line for tests in Beijing
The outbreak has raised concerns about China’s vulnerability to a “second wave”.
The virus found in Beijing cases is an imported strain of COVID-19, according to the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Harvard study, published on the preprint website medRxiv.org on Tuesday, is yet to be peer-reviewed.
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Street cleaning in Wuhan at the start of the outbreak
The Chinese city of Wuhan was where the disease was first identified
It took three of the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences collected in Beijing last month and compared them to 7,643 samples worldwide.
The three genomes showed the greatest resemblance to cases in Europe from February to May, and to cases in South and Southeast Asia from May to June.
They were also similar to a small number of infections seen in China in March, suggesting the strain may have appeared first in China and then returned to the country three months later, the authors said.
Coronavirus cases worldwide
The report explains: “As the most recent cases in these branches are almost exclusively from South(east) Asia, this could suggest that the new cases in Beijing were re-introduced by transmissions from South(east) Asia.”
The outbreak traced to Beijing’s huge Xinfadi wholesale market on June 11 infected 329 people within days.
Quarantine restrictions and large-scale testing of residents began soon after the first cases were identified.
China’s President Xi Jinping
China also required all shipments of imported meat to be tested for COVID-19 before they could leave its ports.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is believed to have originated in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year and has now infected more than 10 million people and killed more than 500,000 worldwide.
However, some studies suggest it could have been circulating much earlier after crossing the species barrier from horseshoe bats native not only to southwest China, but also Laos and Myanmar.