SMASH MOUTH A medical worker in protective gear takes a swab sample from a young man for coronavirus testing at a nucleic acid testing site in the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area of Beijing on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. XINHUA PHOTO
SMASH MOUTH A medical worker in protective gear takes a swab sample from a young man for coronavirus testing at a nucleic acid testing site in the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area of Beijing on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. XINHUA PHOTO

BEIJING: Beijing on Tuesday conducted mass coronavirus tests for nearly all its 21 million residents as fears grew that the Chinese capital may be placed under a strict lockdown like Shanghai.

Under its zero-Covid policy, China has used lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions to stamp out infections.

Its biggest city, Shanghai, has been almost entirely locked down for weeks, and the mass testing order in Beijing has sparked worries the capital would be placed under similar restrictions.

"Shanghai's situation has gone beyond everyone's imagination, and many people think it's absurd that a modern metropolis...has handled the situation like that," said a Beijing resident, surnamed Zhao, as she did her regular shopping at a supermarket.

"I believe our situation will not be as bad...but to be honest, we also bought some rice, noodles, grains and oil. We've made preparations for at least one to two weeks," the 35-year-old human resources professional told Agence France-Press (AFP).

Beijing has ordered residents of the 12 central districts, home to most of its population, to undergo three rounds of testing after dozens of infections were found in recent days.

The capital's most populous district, Chaoyang, was the first to order mass testing from Monday, with people waiting in long lines to be swabbed by health workers in protective gear.

Eleven more districts began testing on Tuesday.

The testing order for Chaoyang sparked panic buying on Sunday night, with residents lining up at supermarkets with full carts as state media tried to reassure the public that supplies were plenty.

Beijing residents told AFP they feared a repeat of the longer-than-expected lockdown in Shanghai, where people have struggled to obtain food and medical care for non-Covid conditions.

Some residential compounds have been sealed off in Chaoyang, much like parts of Shanghai.

One resident of the district, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal, told AFP he felt "a little anxious" after fences were suddenly put up in his neighborhood.

Residents in his building were ordered on Monday night to stay home for at least 14 days after one neighbor tested positive.

In addition to the tests, Beijing suspended large gatherings, such as wedding banquets, and closed theaters. It also ordered a halt in home renovations and some construction projects.

Although the capital reported 33 new cases on Tuesday — a fraction of Shanghai's daily tally of 16,000 — officials are anxious to avoid a spiraling outbreak.

They have urged companies to allow employees to work from home and suspended local group tourism ahead of a May national holiday.

Authorities have urged residents not to leave Beijing unless necessary and ordered the cancelation of sports events and exhibitions.

They are also increasingly struggling with the impact of strict zero-Covid protocols on the economy, especially when outbreaks appear in the country's most important cities.

Concerns have also grown about how China's Covid policies could impact the global economy, especially supply chains.

The city of Baotou in China's Inner Mongolia region — a major supplier of rare earths — said on Monday that after the detection of two virus cases, all residents must stay home, with each household only sending one member out to buy necessities once a day.

That order came as Shanghai's lockdown dragged on, with 52 new Covid deaths reported on Tuesday.