Thousands quarantined after Beijing man breaks Covid-19 rules

The man had failed to isolate at home after he had visited a shopping centre considered "high risk". PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (AFP) - A Beijing man has landed thousands of his neighbours in quarantine after he ignored an order to stay at home and later tested positive for Covid-19, prompting a police investigation.

The Chinese capital has ordered hundreds of thousands of residents to stay home over the last five weeks to curb its largest coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

Officials said Sunday (May 29) a man in his 40s surnamed Sun had failed to follow a requirement to isolate that he was given after he visited a shopping centre considered "high risk".

"During the home isolation period he... went out many times and walked in the neighbourhood," said Beijing public security official Pan Xuhong.

Mr Sun and his wife later tested positive, prompting authorities to lock down 5,000 of their neighbours at home and send 250 to a government quarantine centre.

It comes as virus restrictions began to be eased in Beijing on Monday, with authorities re-opening parks, museums and cinemas and declaring the outbreak under control.

China is wedded to a zero-Covid strategy of hard lockdowns, mass testing and long quarantine periods to wipe out clusters as they emerge.

There are tough penalties for breaking the rules and Mr Sun is now under police investigation.

Beijing's Omicron-fuelled cluster has seen more than 1,700 infections since late April - a tiny number by global standards but troubling for China's rigid approach to the virus.

Case numbers have dropped sharply in the past week.

"There have been no new cases found in society (outside quarantine centres) for two days," Mr Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the Beijing government, said Sunday. "The situation is stable and improving... but the risk of a rebound still exists."

Most bus, subway and taxi services in three of the capital's most populous districts were running again Monday and millions were told to return to work.

A handful of tai chi practitioners and locals were enjoying balmy weather in a re-opened downtown park.

"I think people are waiting to see whether there will be new cases before coming out in large numbers," said Mr Zhi Ruo, a government employee who had brought his five-year-old child out to play.

Schools remain closed and Beijing still requires a negative Covid test to enter public facilities, including supermarkets.

China's commercial hub Shanghai has announced plans to re-open businesses from June 1 - nearly two months after all economic activity ground to a halt in a citywide lockdown.

The city will "eliminate unreasonable restrictions... and abandon the approval system for work and production by enterprises", Vice-Mayor Wu Qing told a news briefing Sunday.

Mr Wu announced a slew of measures to shore up Shanghai's virus-battered economy, including cutting property taxes, subsidising gas and electricity for businesses and ordering banks to lend more to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Residents allowed to leave home for a few hours were seen getting haircuts and massages on sidewalks at the weekend as Shanghai slowly started to re-open.

The city reported 66 infections Monday, while Beijing reported 12.

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