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Beijing tests millions, isolates thousands over COVID cluster at 24-hour bar

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6/6

© Reuters. People line up for nucleic acid tests at a mobile testing booth, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China June 13, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

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By Martin Quin Pollard and Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) – Authorities in China’s capital Beijing on Monday raced to contain a COVID-19 outbreak traced to a raucous 24-hour bar known for cheap liquor and big crowds, with millions facing mandatory testing and thousands under targeted lockdowns.

The outbreak of nearly 200 cases linked to the city centre Heaven Supermarket Bar, which had just reopened as curbs in Beijing eased last week, highlights how hard it will be for China to make a success of its “zero COVID” policy as much of the rest of the world opts to learn how to live with the virus.

The re-emergence of COVID infections is also raising new concerns about the outlook for the world’s second-largest economy. China is only just shaking off a heavy blow from a two-month lockdown of Shanghai, its most populous city and commercial nerve centre, that also roiled global supply chains.

Dine-in service at Beijing restaurants resumed on June 6 after more than a month in which the city of 22 million people enforced various COVID curbs. Many malls, gyms and other venues were closed, parts of the city’s public transport system were suspended, and millions were urged to work from home.

“We have to test every day now. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s necessary,” said a 21-year-old resident surnamed Cao, who runs a convenience store in Beijing’s largest district Chaoyang, where the bar cluster was discovered. “The virus situation has hurt our business a bit, it’s down about 20-30%.”

Chaoyang kicked off a three-day mass testing campaign among its roughly 3.5 million residents on Monday. About 10,000 close contacts of the bar’s patrons have been identified, and their residential buildings put under lockdown, and some planned school reopenings in the district have been postponed.

Queues snaked around some testing sites on Monday for more than 100 metres, according to Reuters’ eyewitnesses. Large metal barriers have been installed around several residential compounds, with people in hazmat suits spraying disinfectant nearby.

‘IN VAIN’

Last week, as dine-in curbs were lifted, Heaven Supermarket Bar, modelled as a large self-service liquor store with chairs, sofas and tables, reclaimed its popularity among young, noisy crowds starved of socialising and parties during Beijing’s COVID restrictions.

The bar, where patrons check aisles to grab anything from local heavy spirits to Belgian beer, is known among Beijing revellers for its tables plastered with empty bottles, and customers falling asleep on sofas after midnight.

With the almost 200 COVID cases linked to the bar since June 9, authorities described the outbreak as “ferocious” and “explosive” – people infected live or work in 14 of the capital’s 16 districts, authorities have said.

Officials have not commented on the exact cause of the outbreak, nor explained why they are not yet reinstating the level of curbs seen last month.

The bar cluster was caused by loopholes and complacency in epidemic prevention, state-backed Beijing Evening News wrote in a commentary piece on Monday.

“At a time when … normality in the city is being restored, the fall of Heaven Supermarket Bar means the hardship and effort of countless people have been in vain,” the newspaper wrote.

If the outbreak grows, “consequences could be serious, and would be such that nobody would want to see,” it added.

STUCK IN ‘PARADISE’

Heaven Supermarket Bar, and other businesses nearby, including the Paradise Massage & Spa, were under lockdown, with police tape and security staff blocking the entrances.

A handful of customers and staff at the parlour would be locked in temporarily for checks, authorities said.

In all, Beijing reported 51 cases for Sunday, versus 65 the previous day, in line with a national trend of falling cases.

Shanghai, which completed mass testing for most of its 25 million residents at the weekend after lifting its lockdown and many of its curbs at the start of the month, reported 37 cases, up from 29.

As Beijing authorities wrestled with new COVID cases in April, retail sales in the capital shrank 16% year-on-year, while property sales nosedived 25%. Data for May, due later this month, is expected to be dire as well.

Before the bar cases, there had been high hopes for a rebound in June.

Economy

South Korean exports dropped 14% in November, the highest in 2.5 years

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exports South Korea

South Korea’s exports fell 14 percent year-on-year to $51.91 billion in November, preliminary data from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy showed. The November drop was the biggest in 2.5 years since May 2020 and was caused both by the deteriorating global economy, which even a Google price chart showed, and a truckers’ strike in the country.

South Korea exports 2022 – reasons for the drop

Exports fell for the second month in a row. Analysts on average expected an 11% decline, according to Trading Economics. Respondents to MarketWatch predicted a 10.5% decline.

Shipments of semiconductor products overseas, the country’s top export item, fell 29.8%; petrochemicals fell 26.5% and steel exports fell 10.6%. Meanwhile, exports of automobiles jumped 31% and petroleum products 26%.

Exports to China, South Korea’s largest trading partner, fell by 25.5%, and to Asian countries – by 13.9%. Below, supplies to the USA grew by 8% and to the European Union – by 0.1%.

In January-November exports rose by 7.8% on the same period last year and reached a record $629.1 billion.

South Korean imports rose 2.7% to $59.2 billion in November, marking the 23rd consecutive month of gains, but the current rate of growth is the lowest since November 2020. Experts had predicted an increase of only 0.2%.

South Korea’s trade deficit last month was $7.01 billion, compared with a surplus of $2,973 billion a year earlier.

The negative balance was recorded for the eighth month in a row. As a result, by the end of 2022, the country may record a foreign trade deficit for the first time since the financial crisis in 2008.

Earlier we reported that the UN estimates the cost of humanitarian aid in 2023 at a record $51 billion.

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Economy

The UN estimates humanitarian aid costs in 2023 at a record $51 billion because of an impending humanitarian crisis

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a humanitarian crisis

Joint humanitarian operations will require a record $51.5 billion in 2023 to address urgent problems.

The UN Office for the OCHA estimates that 339 million people will need urgent aid in 2023. At the same time, OCHA called on donor countries to provide funds for assistance in 2023 to the 230 million people most in need, living in 68 countries.

Griffiths explained that aid is needed not only for people experiencing conflicts and disease outbreaks. but also for those suffering the effects of climate change, such as people in peninsular Somalia facing drought and those in Pakistan experiencing severe flooding. For the first time, the growing humanitarian crisis has brought the number of displaced people worldwide to the 100 million mark. Also worsening an already bad situation is the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, which affects the poor. Note that the general economic crisis has begun to negatively affect even the Netflix price chart.

Earlier we reported that house prices in the UK fell by 1.4% in November.

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Economy

Average house prices in the UK fell 1.4% in November

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average house prices in the uk

Average house prices in the UK fell 1.4% in the previous month in November to 263,788 thousand pounds (about $319,000), according to the British mortgage company Nationwide Building Society.

The decline was recorded at the end of the second consecutive month and was the most significant in almost 2.5 years – since June 2020. Analysts on average had forecast a decline of only 0.3%, according to Trading Economics.

Are house prices in the UK going to fall even more?

Residential real estate prices in November compared to the same month last year increased by 4.4%. At the same time, experts expected a larger increase of 5.8%. The growth rate slowed down significantly compared with 7.2% in October. Because of the difficult economic situation, British investors are investing in other instruments. The Microsoft price chart, for example, is showing potential for growth, so many are interested in the U.S. stock market. 

“The market looks set to remain under pressure in the coming quarters. Inflation will remain high for some time, and interest rates are likely to continue to rise,” believes Nationwide Senior Economist Robert Gardner. – The outlook is unclear, and much will depend on how the overall economy behaves, but a relatively soft landing is still possible.”

Earlier we reported that Sanctions Circumvention was included in the EU’s list of criminal offenses.

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