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Beijing (AFP) – Beijing residents rushed to supermarkets on Thursday as Chinese authorities tried to quell growing panic over a rumor that the capital would be placed under a stay-at-home order.

The city has tried to stamp out a surge of cases in recent weeks, closing subway stations and telling many residents to work from home, with hundreds of communities cordoned off to contain cases.

On Thursday, rumors swirled online that authorities were set to impose a strict lockdown, prompting many people to rush to grocery stores and stock up.

People in Beijing fear they will face draconian measures similar to those that trapped most of Shanghai’s 25 million people at home for weeks – after what was initially described as a multi-day shutdown.

No lockdown was announced on Thursday, but officials confirmed they would begin three more rounds of mass testing for residents of 12 of the city’s main neighborhoods and “recommended” that people stay home and “reduce trips” during this period.

AFP saw staff at a local supermarket in central Beijing rush to restock as vegetable shelves were emptied.

Sui Xin, 41, told AFP he went to the store after reading on social media that officials in the capital might keep residents at home.

Long lines of masked shoppers fill supermarket aisles in Beijing Jade GAO AFP

“Everyone is stocking up,” he said, buying eggs and instant noodles. “I’ll be fine if I have to stay home for three days or seven.”

“I’m just buying chicken wings and instant noodles, there’s nothing left,” said a customer named Huang, queuing at another crowded supermarket.

Long lines of masked shoppers filled the aisles of supermarkets across the city, many with baskets full of fresh vegetables and others carrying bags of rice.

“I don’t store, I just came here to buy vegetables to cook tonight,” a puzzled shopper named Jing told AFP. “I was stunned by this scene – everyone was crowding around and snatching supplies.”

Officials tried to calm residents at a daily press conference on Thursday, saying there was no need to panic to buy food and urging people to stay calm.

“The so-called lockdown and the ‘quiet period’ are just rumours,” said Xu Hejian, a Beijing official.

There is no need to shop for groceries or refuel. Townspeople, don’t worry.”

But many were still nervous.

“I can’t say for sure if there will be a lockdown, but I’m really afraid of it,” a buyer named Wang told AFP.

According to an online tracker from Tencent, Beijing has more than 650 areas under Covid-19 restrictions, including those with stay-at-home orders.

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