BEIJING (AP) — Repeated COVID-19 testing of millions of Beijing residents is starting to test the patience of some as the city clamps down on the virus ahead of the coming Winter Olympics.
A third round of mass testing for the 2 million residents of Fengtai district got underway Wednesday. Residents bundled up against the wind as they waited in line under sunny skies, with the daytime high hovering around the freezing point.
An official announcement of the testing on social media late Tuesday drew dozens of critical comments, which were echoed by some Fengtai residents the following morning.
“I think it is too frequent,” said a woman who only gave her surname, Ma. “I just did it yesterday and was asked to do it again today. I asked the question to the staff and they said, ‘Under the principle of testing everyone who should be tested, just do it since you are here.’”
The Chinese capital reported 14 new local cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total in the ongoing delta variant outbreak to about 50. Nationwide, the National Health Commission reported 24 new non-imported cases.
The numbers are small compared to other countries — South Korea’s latest daily tally topped 13,000 — but they are a major concern for the government as it prepares to host the Winter Games in nine days.
The Chinese capital has stepped up the country’s already strict pandemic response measures. Mass testing of neighborhoods and buildings is being conducted around the city, and the local government announced this week that anyone who buys fever, headache or other cold medicines would have to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours.
“This is not convenient, but we should cooperate with whatever policies the government comes up with,” Zhang Jianping, a salesperson at a shopping mall, said of the new cold medicine requirement. “We should protect ourselves from catching a cold so we don’t become a burden on the country.”
All 2 million residents in Fengtai district, where half of the cases in Beijing have been found, are being tested for the third time since last weekend. Some areas of the district have been locked down, with residents not allowed to leave their housing complex or neighborhood.
About 90 people wrote comments on the government’s post about the testing, mostly making complaints. Some said the frequent testing wastes resources, disrupts work and daily life, and burdens health care workers and community officials.
China’s government has stuck to a zero-COVID approach, even as others have loosened restrictions on movement. Authorities snuff out any outbreak, no matter how small, with lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions. The policy has kept the number of cases and deaths relatively low in China but makes it challenging for the government to exit that strategy.