Covid Outbreak in Beijing Prompts Panic Buying and Lockdown Fears

The largest area where residents are locked down or discouraged from leaving their homes covers about a square mile of southern Chaoyang district, across a wide avenue from the Beijing University of Technology. Shops on the university’s side of the avenue were still open early Monday evening, but the apparel stores, convenience stores, eateries and many other businesses on the far side of the avenue were all dark and empty.

A half dozen police squad cars were parked with blue and white and red flashing lights at one corner of the area, and several more squad cars were parked along the road. A couple of ambulances stood ready to whisk away anybody found to be infected. But there was no easily visible sign of the high green security fences being used in Shanghai to cordon off homes and neighborhoods.

Li Haiqing, a 27-year-old resident of a locked-down neighborhood several miles farther east, said that he had stocked up on instant food, snacks, water and paper towels on Saturday and so had been ready when he awoke Sunday morning to find that no one was allowed to leave the apartment complex.

“It took me by surprise. I wonder why it happened so suddenly — it feels as if it had nothing to do with me,” he said, while adding that, “Because there are confirmed cases after all, I think safety is the first priority.”

Cases have been spreading in Beijing for a week, with multiple rounds of transmission, Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, said at a news conference on Sunday.

Chaoyang is the most fashionable district in the city, with numerous luxury shopping malls and expensive apartments. At Shin Kong Place, a mall with stores for brands like Chanel, Saint Laurent and Versace, long lines quickly formed at the high-priced supermarket as families rushed to stockpile food.

At a P.C.R. testing booth on the street a block away, several dozen people were still in line at 8 p.m. on Sunday when the staff members inside, in full-body white hazmat suits, announced that they were closing for the night. The closing of the booth provoked anger from the people standing in the darkness waiting for the $3.80 tests, for which the results are typically returned in 12 hours. Many shouted at the staff, and several hit and kicked the booth and tried to wrench open its door and to argue with the staff.

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