Beijing is tightening curbs across the city, including ordering millions of people to work from home and stay within their districts, in what city residents are saying amounts to a de facto lockdown.
Residents in two of the Chinese capital’s 16 districts were told to “strictly implement working from home” and not to leave their districts unless necessary.
The two districts include Chaoyang, where the Central Business District, many embassies and headquarters of multinational companies are located, and the Shunyi district, which is adjacent to one of Beijing’s airports.
Non-essential businesses such as cinemas, museums and KTV parlours; all schools except universities; and some parks were also ordered to close, as the city tries to snuff out a stubborn Covid-19 outbreak.
These measures add to already existing citywide curbs, including a ban on dining out. Dozens of subway stations and more than 150 bus routes have also been shut down.
The municipal authorities said on Monday (May 9) that emerging community clusters were currently the biggest danger faced by the city – it ordered three rounds of mass tests for streets that have reported a case in the past seven days.
Beijing has been reporting dozens of cases each day, with 915 cases reported since April 22 when a cluster was detected at a Chaoyang district school. The city reported 50 cases in the 24 hours ending 3pm on Monday, with nine cases picked up through community screening.
China is battling its worst outbreak of Covid-19 since the pandemic began in late 2019.
In Shanghai, 25 million people have been confined at home since the start of April. The harsh measures there have left people without reliable access to food and basic necessities, leading to growing unhappiness.
In Beijing’s Chaoyang district, the city has come to a virtual standstill, with office lobbies left dark and empty, and shops and restaurants shut.
The only buzz is usually concentrated around the makeshift Covid-19 booths that have popped up over the past weeks to carry out what have now become almost daily Covid-19 tests for Beijing’s 22 million residents.
Restaurant worker Pan Jianfa, 34, said the measures were not any “different from a lockdown”.
“It’s starting to feel a bit like what is happening in Shanghai. There are so many housing communities that have been locked down, you can’t eat in restaurants, you can’t even sit outside and eat, and now you cannot even go to a park,” said Mr Pan, who works at a popular Italian restaurant in the Sanlitun shopping area in Chaoyang.
Delivery rider Qi Yongli, 35, told The Straits Times that while the measures will reduce the risk of transmission, it has caused many restaurants to close.
“If you don’t allow dining in, how are people going to carry on with business?” Mr Qi asked.
Their comments reflect the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Chinese capital, with residents expecting measures to tighten further.
Over the weekend, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned of a “complicated and grave” employment situation in Beijing and Shanghai.
The financial hub reported 3,947 cases for Sunday, down slightly from 3,975 cases last Saturday, but lockdown measures have been tightened.
There have been reports of a new push to end community infections outside quarantine zones by late May, with residents in some districts being notified that they were no longer able to receive deliveries.
Accounts have also circulated on social media of neighbours of positive cases being forced from their homes into centralised quarantine, with the authorities demanding that their keys be handed over so their homes can be disinfected.
It led to rare public criticism of the government surfacing on Chinese social media.
Professor Tong Zhiwei, who teaches law at the East China University of Political Science and Law, questioned the legality of such acts in an essay and said they should stop.
“Shanghai should set a good example for the whole country on how to carry out Covid-19 prevention work in a scientific and legitimate way,” he wrote.
Mr Hu Xijin, the retired editor-in-chief of the nationalist Global Times tabloid, said on his Weibo account that the central government needs to urgently provide guidelines, legislation and policies to address these questions about the legal basis of these isolation measures.
“The current pandemic fight is very tense, and in some places, there have been clashes on the ground, which have led to disputes online… But the understanding and emotions of (the authorities and the people) should not be in opposition,” he said.
“To reduce this conflict, relying on the efforts of the grassroots officials is not enough… you need support from the national level authorities.”