Beijing launches probe into bar blamed for capital’s COVID surge

Authorities in Beijing have launched an investigation into a 24-hour bar they believe to be at the centre of a cluster of more than 250 COVID-19 cases in China’s capital since last week, domestic media said on Tuesday.

A team of local government officials will work to investigate and deal with the Heaven Supermarket Bar “quickly, strictly and seriously”, the state-backed Beijing Daily said.

All the city’s bars, nightclubs, karaoke venues, internet cafes and other places of entertainment are being inspected, the paper said, with those in underground spaces being shut as epidemic prevention work is “tightened”.

The paper has repeatedly pointed the finger at an individual, dubbed Patient No. 1,991, for triggering the flare-up. Careless behaviour has turned the individual into the “propagator” of the outbreak, the paper said on Tuesday.

Authorities in the city of 22 million say the individual did not take any COVID-19 test between May 26 and June 8, despite visiting a number of restaurants, bars and crowded places during the period.

The patient developed a fever by the evening of June 8, two days after a visit to the 24-hour bar at the centre of the current cluster.

Despite the fever, the individual returned to the bar in the small hours of June 9, the day on which a handful of other bar patrons were found to have become infected.

Authorities are under pressure as the outbreak linked to the bar has left millions facing mandatory testing and thousands under targeted lockdowns. It comes just days after the city ended a partial lockdown that had run for more than a month.

News of the investigation came a day after state media reported Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited the bar and said it was necessary to strengthen COVID prevention and control of key places.

People infected in the outbreak live or work in 14 of the capital’s 16 districts, authorities have said.

Drinking and dining in most establishments in the city only resumed on June 6, after more than a month of measures such as exhortations to work from home, along with closures of malls and stretches of the transport system.

Chaoyang, the city’s largest district in which the bar is located, began a three-day mass testing campaign on Monday for its roughly 3.5 million residents.

About 10,000 close contacts of the bar’s patrons have been identified, and their residential buildings put under lockdown.