China scrambles to control Beijing Covid outbreak, restricts people’s movements

At least 60 subway stations, impacting 13 lines and around 15 % of Beijing’s vast network, and 158 bus routes, mostly in the most populous Chaoyang district, were suspended indefinitely.
A health worker takes a swab sample from an elderly woman to be tested for Covid-19 at a makeshift testing site outside a museum along a street in Beijing, China on Wednesday. (AFP)
A health worker takes a swab sample from an elderly woman to be tested for Covid-19 at a makeshift testing site outside a museum along a street in Beijing, China on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated on May 04, 2022 06:44 PM IST
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BEIJING: Beijing residents woke up on Wednesday to an early morning announcement that dozens of subway stations and bus routes were shut as city authorities scrambled to restrict people’s movements as part of efforts to stamp out an ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

At least 60 subway stations, impacting 13 lines and around 15 % of Beijing’s vast network, and 158 bus routes, mostly in the most populous Chaoyang district, were suspended indefinitely, the city government said in a statement.

By Wednesday evening, the city authorities further said Chaoyang’s residents will have to work from home until further notice.

“The Beijing government has asked employees in Chaoyang, the capital’s most populous district, to work from home from Thursday, as the Labour Day holiday ends, and Covid-19 cases continue to climb. Those unable to work from home are advised to drive to work,” the government said in a statement, quoted by government-run media.

“For those who must continue to work at their offices, self-driving is encouraged,” said Xu Hejian, a Beijing government spokesperson, adding commuters should avoid office gatherings and try not to visit places other than their office and home.

Dine-in services at restaurants and hotels will remain indefinitely suspended, the government announced.

Beijing still has hidden infection risks at the community level, a government official had said on Tuesday.

The announcement and transport system suspension have reignited unease among residents of an impending Shanghai-like lockdown.

The city has recorded a few over 500 Covid-19 infections - out of a population of around 22 million, including 51 for May 3 - since the outbreak began on April 22.

However, the low caseload hasn’t stopped authorities from restricting movement by public transport, locking down some communities, and suspending schools at least until May 11, especially in Chaoyang district, which has around 3.5 million residents.

A majority of Beijing’s cases have been reported from Chaoyang where the central business district, foreign embassies and large number of hotels and bars are located.

The city government has ruled that residents will need to furnish a negative nucleic acid test, taken within the previous seven days, to use public transport from Thursday when government and private offices resume work after the five-day Labour Day holiday.

Twelve of Beijing’s 16 districts have started three rounds of nucleic acid screening from Tuesday till Thursday on a daily basis in succession to curb the spread, a state media report said.

Many residents of the city have already been tested at least five times in the last 10 days.

The measures taken by the Beijing government do not amount to a sweeping lockdown - as was implemented in Shanghai - but more of targeted attempts to seal areas from where cases have been reported.

The government is minutely tracking the transmission chains of confirmed cases and their primary and secondary contacts to isolate them.

The government’s primary objective is to keep Beijing free from a large-scale outbreak - it is China’s political hub where the Communist party’s top leadership, including President Xi Jinping, stays.

It is also the year in which the twice-in-a-decade congress, a reshuffle of the CPC leadership, will take place where Xi is widely expected to secure a record third term as the leader.

Meanwhile, China’s financial hub Shanghai reported 260 confirmed locally transmitted Covid-19 cases and 4,722 local asymptomatic cases on Tuesday, the municipal health commission said on Wednesday.

The city also reported 16 deaths from Covid-19, down from 20 on Monday.

The death toll in Shanghai stood at 490 as of Tuesday.

From May 1 to 3, 192 cases were identified among people outside the closed-off management areas, accounting for 1.07% of the total infections, the commission said.

Much of the city continues to be under a strict lockdown though residents in some areas have been allowed to step out to buy essentials.

“The city has seen a declining number of residents living under closed-off management, with 2.39 million in closed-off management areas, 5.19 million in restrictive control areas, and 15.78 million in prevention areas as of Tuesday,” official news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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