Coronavirus: Strict security measures and health screenings ahead of 'Two Sessions' in Beijing

Beijing has taken extraordinary measures including imposing quarantine and nucleic acid tests on attendees. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - With nearly 5,000 delegates from across China descending on Beijing for the annual "Two Sessions", the city goes into a semi-lockdown. Bars and nightclubs have been ordered to close and stricter security measures have been implemented throughout the city.

But following the Covid-19 outbreak this year and with active cases still being recorded in at least two provinces, the capital has taken extraordinary measures, including imposing quarantine and nucleic acid tests on attendees and moving media interviews online to prevent crowding.

The proceedings are usually held in March but were pushed back nearly two months this year because of the virus outbreak that infected more than 82,000 and caused over 4,600 deaths in China.

Delegates from various provinces, including former epicentre Hubei, have arrived ahead of the meetings. They are serving out quarantines in various accommodations, including the five-star Beijing Hotel on Chang'an Street, a stone's throw away from the meeting venue at the Great Hall of the People.

According to local TV station BTV, temperature-checking stations have been set up next to security inspections, while areas have been set aside for nucleic acid tests.

Delegates will be ferried to and from meetings and will not be able to wander out of the "clean zones".

Diplomats attending the opening of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) or the legislative National People's Congress (NPC), collectively known as the Two Sessions, will have to check into the Diaoyutai Guesthouse. They will also be subjected to nucleic acid tests before being allowed to the sessions.

But the number of journalists allowed to attend the event has been curtailed, with most expected to follow proceedings on livestreams.

Only journalists from the state-run Xinhua news agency, People's Daily and CCTV will be allowed into the meeting venues, according to the Association of China Industrial Newspapers.

Last year, close to 3,000 reporters covered the event, where the world's second-largest economy sets out its agenda for the year.

Increased security measures have been put in place across Beijing, including additional checks on trains entering the city and road closures around the Great Hall, in Beijing's political heart of Tiananmen.

Pedestrians and bicycles are still allowed on the main road but parts of the Tiananmen Square, close to the Great Hall, have been sectioned off.

The number of plain-clothes police officers around the area has increased, with some on bicycles, while passersby who try to stop for pictures are told to move on.

Online shopping has also hit a snag with packages going through extra inspections while weapon-shaped products are not allowed into the city.

The Beijing Emergency Management Bureau has ordered gasoline stations to stop sales of bulk oil and firecrackers, while chemical plants and pharmaceutical companies will be inspected.

Unlike in previous years, bars and restaurants said they have not been instructed to shut early.

"Last year, we were specifically told not to open past a certain hour while clubs were told to close during the entire two weeks," said Mr Joe Hou, who owns a pub close to the Workers' Stadium, a popular nightlife district in east Beijing.

Beijing is still in "wartime mode", said deputy mayor Lu Yan, who also heads the task force dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak.

"We must act decisively in ensuring the safety of the capital, resolutely prevent and eliminate all possible risks," he told a press conference on Sunday.

All of the city takes part in this effort, he added, including the community.

China's economy is high up on the agenda this year after it was battered by a nearly two-month long shutdown, with growth declining for the first time since records were first released in 1992.

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