A worsening coronavirus outbreak in Beijing has prompted China to raise its emergency response to the second-highest of four levels and cancel more than 60 per cent of the flights to the capital city.
Party Secretary Cai Qi told a meeting of Beijing’s Communist Party Standing Committee that the virus situation there was “extremely grave”.
In less than a week, Beijing has recorded at least 106 new infections following a suspected outbreak at a popular wholesale food market.
“This has truly rung an alarm bell for us,” Mr Cai said.
The party’s Global Times said 1255 flights to and from the capital’s two major airports were scrapped by Wednesday morning, about two-thirds of those scheduled.
China also limited other travel around the capital, keying in on hot spots.
Beijing had essentially eradicated local transmissions until recent days, with 137 new cases since last week.
On Wednesday, the city of 20 million raised its threat level from 3 to 2, cancelling classes, suspending re-openings and strengthening requirements for social distancing.
It was a sharp pullback for the country that declared victory over COVID-19 in March and a message to the rest of the world about how tenacious the virus really is.
Australia faces ‘disinformation’ accusation
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has been accused of spreading disinformation after she urged people not to believe that Australians were increasingly attacking Chinese people over the coronavirus.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian took aim at Senator Payne, alleging she was “politicising the pandemic” by advising Chinese people to ignore its warnings that they shouldn’t travel to Australia.
“To be candid, we don’t think it is ‘in Australia’s best long-term interests’ when certain people, acting out of their own political interests, choose to turn away from facts and engage in politicising the pandemic and sabotaging relevant international cooperation,” Mr Zhao told a media briefing.
His comments come after Senator Payne revealed in a speech that China had been linked to thousands of Twitter accounts used to spread disinformation and “improve their own image in the COVID-19 context”.
She rejected as disinformation the Chinese government’s claim tourists and students should reconsider travelling to Australia due to racism.
“I can say emphatically that Australia will welcome students and visitors from all over the world, regardless of race, of gender or nationality,” Senator Payne said.
Mr Zhao said: “As facts have shown, disinformation is Australia’s expertise, not China’s”.
“We hope the Australian official [Senator Payne] will act responsibly in a just and objective manner, stop political manipulation of the pandemic and contribute to the global combat against the pandemic,” he said.
“We are talking about the plain fact of existing discrimination and violence in Australia, but this Australian official labelled it as “disinformation”. Then may I ask what about the rights and interests and feelings of those victims?”