China’s ‘zero-COVID’ restrictions curb May Day holiday travel

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Only a few people walked the pedestrian streets of the historic Qianmen district in central Beijing on Sunday, an area normally bustling with tourists on what was a national holiday and a sunny spring day.

Many Chinese marked a quiet May Day this year as the government’s “zero-COVID” approach restricts travel and enforces lockdowns in several cities. Millions of people remain confined to their buildings or compounds in Shanghai, China’s largest city, under a lockdown that has eased only slightly.

SHANGHAI TESTS TO RELEASE COVID LOCK

A child wearing a mask waits in line for a COVID test on Sunday May 1, 2022 in Beijing.  Many Chinese are celebrating a quiet May Day holiday this year as the government "zero-COVID" approach restricts travel and enforces closures in several cities.
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A child wearing a mask waits in line for a COVID test on Sunday May 1, 2022 in Beijing. Many Chinese are celebrating a quiet May Day holiday this year as the government’s “zero-COVID” approach restricts travel and enforces lockdowns in several cities.
(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Under an order announced the previous afternoon, all restaurants in Beijing were closed to dinner customers on Sunday and can only offer takeout and delivery until the end of the national holiday on Wednesday. Parks and tourist attractions in the Chinese capital are limited to half their capacity. The Universal Studios theme park, which opened last year, said it had temporarily closed.

In Qianmen, the tourist district around the street that leads to the imposing gates of the former imperial palace, some were buying food from stalls and eating at benches outside. Wang Liying said sales at his noodle and stir-fry restaurant fell 98% during the holiday compared to a year ago.

“The other 2% is very little for us,” she said. “There’s not much we can do with the pandemic.”

The virus situation varies across the vast country of 1.4 billion people, but the Department for Transport said last week it expected 100 million journeys to be made from Saturday to Wednesday, this which would be down 60% from last year. Many who travel stay within their province as local governments discourage or restrict cross-border travel to try to prevent further infections.

People wearing masks shop for fresh vegetables at a pop-up market in Beijing on Thursday, April 28, 2022.

People wearing masks shop for fresh vegetables at a pop-up market in Beijing on Thursday, April 28, 2022.
(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

China is sticking to a strict “zero-COVID” policy even as many other countries ease restrictions and see if they can live with the virus. Much of Shanghai – a financial, manufacturing and transport hub – remains in lockdown, disrupting people’s lives and dealing a blow to the economy.

BEIJING CLASSES GO ONLINE AS COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS TIGHTEN

The major outbreak in Shanghai, where the death toll has topped 400, appears to be easing. The city recorded about 7,200 new locally transmitted cases on Saturday, up from a peak of 27,605 on April 13. Outside of Shanghai, only 364 new cases have been discovered in the rest of mainland China.

Beijing, which has tallied 350 cases in the past nine days, is restricting its activities in an attempt to prevent a large outbreak and avoid a citywide lockdown similar to Shanghai. Individual buildings and housing complexes with coronavirus cases have been cordoned off. Gyms and theaters were closed for the holiday season. Visitors to many office buildings and tourist sites like the Great Wall must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the previous 48 hours.

A woman receives a throat swab for a COVID-19 test at a testing site in Beijing, Thursday, April 28, 2022.

A woman receives a throat swab for a COVID-19 test at a testing site in Beijing, Thursday, April 28, 2022.
(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

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Epidemic prevention and control is at the most critical time in Beijing, said Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the city’s disease prevention center. While most of the new cases are in people in quarantine, some have been found in the wider community, Pang said. Beijing is conducting repeated rounds of mass testing to find and isolate anyone infected.

Online booking agency Ctrip said last week that people were booking trips to cities that were mostly virus-free, such as Chengdu in Sichuan province and nearby Chongqing. Other popular destinations include Wuhan, where the world’s first major COVID-19 outbreak occurred in early 2020. About half of orders on the Ctrip platform were for trips within a province.

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