Hospital coronavirus clusters hit Beijing’s plans to get back to normal

Zhuang Pinghui

A second Beijing hospital reported an outbreak of Covid-19 on Thursday, hitting hopes the capital will be able to start getting back to normal.

The city had hoped to ease restrictions on movements and a ban on public gatherings that forced schools to shut down, but the new case, coupled with the news that the number of infections at the other hospital had risen to 36, means they are likely to have to put these back.

The new hospital outbreak was first confirmed in a female inpatient at Peking University People’s Hospital on February 18.

The previous day her daughter and son-in-law sought treatment in hospital’s fever clinic and later tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, Liu Xiaoguang, deputy director of Peking University Health Science Centre, said.

The couple, whose names and ages have not been disclosed, returned from Xinjiang on January 19 and regularly visited the woman, who had been in hospital for six months and was being treated for pneumonia and undergoing dialysis. The ward banned visitors from February 9 onwards, Liu told a press conference.

A total of 164 people, including medical staff, geriatric ward patients and dialysis patients have been placed under centralised medical observation.

Meanwhile, l aboratory tests on 251 people who were in close contact with the patient have all come back negative.

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The infection at the People’s Hospital came as the number of cases at the second hospital cluster in the capital rose to 36.

Those infected in the Fuxing Hospital outbreak include eight medical staff, nine other hospital workers and 19 patients and their families. An unknown number of cases has also been reported in a neighbouring residential area.

News of the infections first emerged on February 3, when the local authorities announced that five staff and four patients at the coronary care unit had been infected.

The building where the unit was located was sealed off two days later, while other buildings at the hospital imposed access restrictions.

Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said 12 people in the sealed-off building have now tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

There have been no positive tests from the other buildings and the sealed unit had now reopened.

The hospital cluster also has also spread to the neighbouring area, although the exact number of cases has not been disclosed.

“We feel very sad about the impact on the neighbouring communities,” said Li Dongxia, president and party secretary of Fuxing Hospital.

“As the hospital president, I feel pain and guilt about the cluster. We will deeply reflect on our mistakes and learn lessons for other cases. We will improve overall hospital infection control,” Li said.

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Zhang Ke, a communicable disease specialist at Beijing’s Youan Hospital, said the two hospital infections could be controlled since people who were in close contact had been quickly identified and isolated.

“Hospitals see much smaller crowds these days due to the ongoing outbreak. Those in close contact can be easily identified and isolated, so there will be sporadic cases but I don’t think the infection would spread out,” Zhang said.

However, these infections will delay plans by the municipal government to ease restrictions designed to curb the spread of Covid-19. The first-degree emergency response was activated on January 24 and allowed for drastic measures such as strict checks on entering and leaving residential buildings and ban mass gatherings.

“We need 14 days with no new cases before ending [the measures]. The hospital infections definitely affect that prospect,” Zhang said.

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