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Downtown Beijing goes quiet as zero-Covid policy smothers capital

By AFP   May 8, 2022 | 10:18 pm PT
Downtown Beijing goes quiet as zero-Covid policy smothers capital
A medic collects Covid-19 swab test in Beijing, China. Photo by AFP
Millions of people in Beijing stayed home on Monday as China's capital tries to fend off a Covid-19 outbreak with creeping restrictions on movement.

Beijing residents fear they may soon find themselves in the grip of the same draconian measures that have trapped most of Shanghai's 25 million people at home for several weeks.

Officials there have said the eastern powerhouse city is winning its battle against China's worst outbreak since the pandemic began.

Yet the Shanghai lockdown has intensified in the last major economy still glued to a zero-Covid policy.

In Beijing, subway stations and offices were empty during rush hour Monday morning across Chaoyang -- the city's most populous district -- after officials stepped up a work-from-home order on Sunday over rising Covid cases.

Non-essential businesses in the district, home to 3.5 million people, were shuttered, with even the Apple store in the popular Sanlitun shopping area ordered to close after opening briefly in the morning.

"I feel very uncomfortable seeing so few people around," Wang, a middle-aged cleaner waiting outside a restaurant for her shift to start, told AFP.

Beijing has reported hundreds of infections in recent weeks, with 49 new Covid-19 infections confirmed on Monday, a relatively tiny number but enough to stir restrictions in the political heart of the country.

Shanghai has borne the brunt of the country's Omicron surge, with more than 500 deaths, according to official numbers.

The financial hub has ordered multi-day curfews for residents of multiple neighbourhoods, according to notices seen by AFP, even as daily case numbers have dwindled into the low thousands.

Anger has seethed online at the perceived bungling of virus controls, mixed messaging and heavy-handedness of Shanghai officials, including sweeping people with negative Covid tests into state quarantine and leaving entire neighbourhoods short of food.

The frustration has also hit the streets - in a country where protest is rare and swiftly snuffed out by authorities.

Authorities have confirmed the veracity of a video that ripped across social media over the weekend showing residents in Zhuanqiao Town clashing with hazmat-suited health authorities over food shortages.

"Police took action as soon as possible to persuade onlookers to disperse and calm the situation down," a statement by the Zhuanqiao Town Covid response team said Sunday.

"According to an on-site investigation, the troublemakers had sufficient supplies at home."

Residents of the neighbourhoods hit by new curfews -- including some areas previously declared lower-risk -- have been ordered not to step out of their apartments except for PCR tests for as long as a week and forbidden from ordering "non-essential" deliveries, according to the notices.

 
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