China’s capital is deploying an increasingly hardcore playbook to contain its nascent Covid-19 outbreak, from repeat testing of most residents to barring access to public places without a negative result as it seeks to avoid the chaos seen in Shanghai.
Beijing halted dining-in at restaurants for the duration of the May Day holiday, which runs through Wednesday, made entry into places like parks and monuments dependent on a negative Covid test and has shuttered gyms.
Authorities have also locked down apartment blocks — forcing some residents to stay in their homes, not allowed out for groceries or exercise — and ordered another three rounds of mass testing to rein in an outbreak that saw 62 new cases Monday, according to the state-run CCTV, up from 41 on Sunday. In Shanghai, new infections fell to 5,669 from 7,333.
The financial hub’s experience is a cautionary tale for Beijing officials seeking to maintain China’s Covid Zero strategy, an approach that’s leaving the country increasingly isolated as the rest of the world opens up.
Beijing has never been locked down at any time in the pandemic, and authorities are aware of the message it would send if the city was forced to curtail peoples’ movements. To avoid the fate of Shanghai — which has been locked down for more than a month now amid its worst wave of the pandemic — officials are deploying tougher measures earlier. Residents of Beijing’s main districts have already undergone multiple rounds of mass testing, aimed at rooting out unknown chains of transmission and cases before they become symptomatic.
The escalating curbs have left destinations usually bustling with people during the holidays instead largely deserted. On the weekend, many people were turned away from parks in Beijing’s center after failing to produce evidence of a negative Covid test, a requirement brought in with just one day’s notice.
Some restaurants set up tables in their doorways to serve takeout food after dining in was banned. One coffee shop put stools outside to allow people to enjoy a drink under the shade of trees, only for police to later arrive to disperse the crowd.
The most common sight was lines of people being swabbed for Covid tests throughout the city, as authorities mandate several rounds of testing for most of Beijing’s 22 million residents. The capital has recorded about 400 cases since the latest outbreak started less than two weeks ago, well behind Shanghai, which recorded more than 27,000 daily infections at its wave’s peak.
A makeshift hospital that will be used to isolate mild Covid cases was reopened in Beijing on Sunday, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported. As part of its strategy pioneered during its first Covid wave in Wuhan, China quarantines all infected people and their close contacts to quell transmission. While successful early on in the pandemic, it’s proven increasingly difficult to execute with bigger and more consistent virus waves driven by more contagious variants like omicron.
In Shanghai, 2.54 million people out a total population of about 25 million remained under the strictest form of lockdown by May 2, officials said at a briefing on Tuesday. The city will continue to mass test, using both PCR and rapid antigen tests, through May 7.
While the spread of the virus is slowing, authorities remain cautious. There are 488 patients in severe condition in hospitals, and 88 people in critical condition.
Businesses and factories are slowing resuming operations in Shanghai, with many allowed to operate so-called closed loops, which create a bubble around workers who basically work, eat and sleep on site. – Bloomberg