Beijing struggling to maintain 'zero Covid' strategy amid outbreak as China's president is exposed to Covid-positive Hong Kong leader

Hong Kong citizens have been told the latest Covid outbreak is the “most complicated, most serious” period for the city of the whole pandemic.

The announcement by the local Beijing government comes as Hong Kong leader John Lee tested positive for Covid after sitting next to Chinese president Xi Jinping unmasked at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.

China is the only country in the world still pushing for a “zero Covid” scenario, with tight international border controls and stringent testing and lockdown regimes in areas with outbreaks of the virus.

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The city reported 154 symptomatic new locally transmitted Covid-19 infections and 808 asymptomatic cases on Monday as authorities urged people to stay at home and encouraged companies to allow people to work remotely – while steering away from a full lockdown. The figure compared with 69 symptomatic cases and 552 asymptomatic cases a day earlier.

People wait in line for a swab test at a Covid-19 test in Beijing. Picture: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
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Across China, the number of new infections nationwide in a single day has exceeded 20,000 for five days in a row.

Non-essential service businesses in the Beijing district of Chaoyang, which is home to nearly 3.5 million people, were told on Monday to “suspend all operations” indefinitely. The instruction from local authorities includes restaurants, which have been told to stop serving meals inside and switch to takeaway only.

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The order said: “Within Chaoyang District, service industries not related to people's livelihood security should suspend all operations. Renovation projects and moving house that have nothing to do with epidemic prevention will be suspended.

“All businesses and commercial complexes in the area, except catering (no dine-in), commercial supermarkets and other forms of people's livelihood security, are all temporarily closed.”

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Beijing authorities have started rolling out a new aerosol version of the booster vaccine manufactured in China, which it said patients have described like “sipping a cup of bubble tea”.

The Hong Kong government said chief executive Mr Lee, who was in Thailand until Sunday night, tested positive in a PCR test at the airport after arriving home. As well as sitting next to Mr Xi at the summit, he also sat next to Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and met the Chinese ambassador to Thailand, Han Zhiqiang, twice during his trip.

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“He is now being isolated in accordance with the guidelines of the Centre for Health Protection [CHP] of the Department of Health,” a government spokesman said. “His rapid antigen tests conducted during his four-day visit to Bangkok were negative.”

Mr Lee is said to be experiencing mild symptoms and will work from home and attend video meetings. Hong Kong, which does not follow the same zero Covid policy as mainland China, removed its requirement for hotel quarantine from September. Instead, arrivals who test negative on arrival are allowed to go to offices and use public transport, but are not allowed to visit restaurants and bars for their first three days in the city.

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Local newspaper the China Morning Post said a source familiar with Chinese state leaders’ movements suggested Mr Lee’s infection “should not be a problem” for the officials as they had all been properly vaccinated.

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