Beijing closes subway stations to stem spread of COVID-19

Beijing closed about 10% of stations in its extensive subway system on Wednesday as an additional measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a brief message, the metro authority said the closure of 40 stations, mostly in the city center, was taken as part of epidemic control measures. No return date has been given.

Beijing is on high alert for the spread of COVID-19, with restaurants and bars limited to takeout only, gyms closed and classes suspended indefinitely. Major tourist sites in the city, including the Forbidden City and the Beijing Zoo, have closed their indoor exhibition halls and are operating at only partial capacity.

A few communities where cases have been discovered have been isolated. People residing in “controlled” areas have been told to stay within the city limits, including 12 areas deemed high risk and 35 others considered medium risk.

Residents of the city are required to undergo three tests throughout the week as authorities seek to detect and isolate cases without imposing the kind of sweeping lockdowns seen in Shanghai and elsewhere. A negative test result obtained within the previous 48 hours is required to enter most public areas.

A healthcare worker waits for people to be tested for COVID-19 at a makeshift testing site outside a museum in Beijing. (Jade Gao/AFP/Getty Images)

Beijing recorded just 51 new cases on Wednesday, five of them asymptomatic.

The metro closures are expected to have relatively little impact on city life, with China observing the Labor Day holiday this week and many commuters in the capital of 21 million already working from home.

empty streets

In a downtown area classified as high-risk on Wednesday, the streets were virtually deserted except for a few delivery drivers on scooters and the occasional pedestrian and car.

All businesses have been closed except supermarkets and fruit and vegetable stores. Strangers generally stay away from high-risk areas to avoid the possibility of their presence registering on tracking apps installed on virtually all mobile phones, creating potential problems for future access to public areas.

A worker removes a man’s throat for COVID-19 during the second straight day of mass testing in Beijing. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

While taking a lighter touch in Beijing, China has generally stuck to its strict “zero-COVID” approach, which restricts movement, tests entire cities and sets up sprawling facilities to try to isolate each infected person. . Lockdowns start with buildings and neighborhoods, but expand across the city if the virus spreads more widely.

It has caused the most disruption in Shanghai, where authorities are slowly easing restrictions that have confined most of the city’s 26 million residents to their apartments, housing compounds or immediate neighborhoods for nearly a month. , and in some cases longer.

Shanghai reported another 4,982 cases on Wednesday, all but 260 asymptomatic, along with 16 more deaths. This continues a steady decline in China’s largest city, which recorded a daily peak of 27,605 new cases on April 13.

The surprisingly low death toll amid an outbreak of more than 400,000 cases in the city that hosts China’s main stock market and biggest port has sparked questions about how those deaths are counted.

The rigid and widely derided restrictions have led to shortages of food and medical aid as well as a wider – though probably temporary – impact on the national economy. Desperate and outraged citizens clashed with authorities at barricades and in line, shouting from their windows and banging pots and pans in frustration and anger.

Communist authorities who tolerate no dissent have sought to eliminate criticism from the internet and blamed the protests, including the slamming of cooking utensils, on the agitation of unidentified “foreign anti-China forces”.

Hospital queues

As part of the reopening, Shanghai this week began requiring health facilities to fully resume services where possible.

At Huashan City Center Hospital, patients filled the waiting room with queues forming outside some wards. Although the number of patients has fallen by around two-thirds from the most recent wave, their conditions tend to be more serious.

Huashan dermatology chief Wu Wenyu said he was seeing patients who had delayed treatment due to the outbreak, some from cities outside Shanghai.

“For example, a patient suffering from [skin disease] the shingles will hurt a lot. He or she might feel very bad at home, but he or she couldn’t go to the hospital because of COVID,” Wu said. “But now many patients come to see the doctor.

Hospital administrators said the hospital is staggering appointments to avoid crowding.

In some residential communities, only one family member was allowed out twice a week for shopping, sometimes also to pick up items for neighbors.

Ling Jiazhao, manager of a supermarket in the eastern district of Pudong, said the store limited customers to 50 at a time.

“I hope it won’t cause congestion. Each community has two to four hours to go out shopping, so most members will do it within an hour,” Ling said.