BEIJING - Worried that a five-day May Day break could undo efforts to curb a burgeoning outbreak in the capital city, Beijing authorities have toughened restrictions and expanded testing requirements over one of the country’s biggest holiday periods.
All restaurants have been barred from offering dine-in service, being allowed to serve only takeouts.
Entry to public venues has been restricted and people must register a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours of taking public transport.
Parks and scenic spots are limiting the number of visitors to half their usual capacity, and requiring them to book tickets in advance. Cinemas will also be shut over the holidays.
Many malls, buildings and residential compounds also require proof of a negative Covid test result for entry.
From Thursday (May 5), the rules will be relaxed with negative test results being valid for a week.
The stepped-up measures announced on Saturday (April 30) are the latest in a string of evolving protocols as Beijing battles the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus and ensure that the city does not find itself in the same predicament as Shanghai.
China’s financial capital has been under lockdown for more than a month after daily infections reached more than 20,000 daily. The prolonged lockdown has led to an outpouring of public outrage not seen since the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, in central China.
Beijing reported 67 positive cases on Saturday, of which eight were asymptomatic. The capital has recorded 295 cases since April 22, officials said at a briefing.
The city was quick to act last week after discovering local transmissions that had gone undetected for about a week.
On April 24, it ordered three rounds of tests for those living and working in the most populous and largest district, Chaoyang, where there have been a rash of infections. The district alone has 3.5 million residents.
The following day, the authorities expanded testing to practically all other districts within the metropolis, which has a population of about 20 million, and banned sporting events and performances.
It has also ordered the shutdown of entertainment and performance venues including karaoke bars and dance clubs in Chaoyang district, which has the largest concentration of such haunts.
Officials said on Saturday that Chaoyang residents will be put through two more rounds of tests. The authorities have also set up a temporary quarantine facility with 4,000 beds for those with mild or no symptoms and are building more. China does not allow those infected to be isolated at home.
Dr Jin Dongyan, a virus expert at the University of Hong Kong, does not think Beijing is heading into a lockdown soon, unless more cases are uncovered over the course of its mass testing exercise.
“But Omicron spreads really quickly and, at some point, it could become impossible to reverse the rising trend, just like what had happened in Shanghai,” he said, adding that it is uncertain if Beijing has crossed that point.
Singaporean William Ding, 50, who owns Vanda Room, a restaurant in Beijing, started making contingency plans three weeks ago, stocking up on food in case supplies are disrupted.
He has been promoting his chicken and beef curry as “suitable to be frozen and stored as emergency supplies” in Singapore-related chat groups on messaging platform, WeChat, and taking plenty of orders for them, as well as for his bazhang (rice dumpling) which come vacuum-packed.
Two years ago, when the virus first started spreading across China, his restaurant was forced to shut for a month, and then allowed only takeout.
“I don’t think it’ll be exactly like 2020. More people are vaccinated, my staff and I are vaccinated. The authorities know more now than they knew then,” he said.
“But we’ll have to wait and see. We’ve all barely recovered and this is happening again. We will have to think about whether the business can carry on if the impact this time is great.”
The Singapore Embassy in Beijing told The Sunday Times it is tracking the situation in Beijing. It sent out an advisory to registered Singaporeans last Wednesday encouraging them to keep enough essential supplies at home and take personal precautions.
It has not received any requests for help in the past week, it said.
Mr Grayson Yun, 41, a Singaporean who is a theme parks consultant in Beijing, said he has enough food stashed away to last him two weeks.
He has been working from home and has been careful when going out, choosing to avoid crowds by making the trip to the testing stations early in the morning.
“China has done really well in its zero-Covid strategy and Beijing is extremely safe, but these policies are affecting people’s daily lives,” said Mr Yun, who has not returned to Singapore since China shut its borders in March 2020.
“ We don’t know what will happen next. That’s what’s scary.”
With additional reporting by Danson Cheong