AFP — Chinese police are investigating a woman for allegedly starting “rumours” that Beijing will enter a three-day lockdown, officials said Friday, after the claims on social media prompted panic buying across the capital.
China is sticking to a zero-Covid strategy to stamp out clusters as they emerge, hitting hundreds of areas across Beijing with some form of restrictions, including strict lockdowns.
Residents rushed to supermarkets on Thursday to stock up on groceries as rumours spread that stay-at-home orders would soon be announced. Dining out had already been halted and tourist attractions closed.
But instead of a lockdown, officials announced a three-day mass testing drive for most of the city and told residents there was no need to panic-buy food.
Beijing police said in a statement on social media that they have launched an investigation into a woman surnamed Yao.
The 38-year-old “fabricated and published the relevant rumours”, the statement said, adding that police have taken “criminal compulsory measures” against her — a broad term that can refer to detention, arrest or home surveillance.
Police said she made up an “emergency notice” stating a Thursday press conference would announce a three-day “quiet period” in which takeout and deliveries would be suspended.
“This was released through online social media platforms and spread massively, seriously disrupting social order,” the statement said.
Police have also taken action against a 29-year-old man surnamed Chen for claiming more than 1,000 asymptomatic Covid-19 patients were roaming the Haidian district of the city without masks, the same police notice said.
Although no strict lockdown was imposed, officials did “recommend” people stay home and “reduce movement” during the three-day testing period.
In many areas, Beijing taxi services have stopped and subway stations closed, while parks have been shut and millions told to work from home.
AFP saw at least one residential area with extra gates erected and a loudspeaker message being broadcast telling people to “refrain from entering this community”.
– Border controls –
Beijing residents fear they may face draconian measures similar to those in Shanghai that have trapped most of its 25 million people at home for over a month — after what was initially described as a days-long shutdown.
China is battling its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the early days of the pandemic, with officials flagging low vaccination rates among older residents and racing to incentivise more retirees to get shots in recent weeks.
Around 82 percent of people aged 60 and older have now had two jabs, according to a health official on Friday.
As Beijing tries to control Covid-19 within its borders, immigration authorities this week doubled down on a policy to “strictly limit non-essential outbound travel activities by Chinese citizens”.
China has significantly tightened border controls since last year and has said it will only issue new passports if travel is considered essential, such as for work or study.
But immigration authorities Friday denied a growing number of reports online that they have been blocking residents from leaving the country and no longer issuing passports.
On Friday, Chinese authorities reported 50 local virus cases in Beijing and over 2,400 domestic cases nationwide.