Beijing facing most serious Covid situation yet, Chinese officials fear

Schools, shops and offices shut with streets eerily quiet in locked down areas

An epidemic control worker in central Beijing, where the number of coronavirus cases is mounting. Getty Images
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Beijing is facing its most severe test of the Covid-19 pandemic, officials in China's capital warned on Monday as they shut businesses and schools in hard-hit districts and tightened entry amid mounting infection numbers in the city and the country.

China is fighting numerous Covid-19 outbreaks, from Zhengzhou in central Henan province to Chongqing in the south-west. It reported 26,824 new local cases for Sunday, nearing the country's daily infection peak in April.

It also recorded two more deaths in Beijing after one on Saturday which was China's first since late May.

Guangzhou, a southern city of nearly 19 million people that is battling the largest of China's recent outbreaks, ordered a five-day lockdown for Baiyun, its most populous district. It also suspended dine-in services and shut nightclubs and theatres in the city's main business district.

The city is facing its most complex and severe prevention and control situation since the outbreak of the coronavirus
Liu Xiaofeng, Beijing health official

The latest wave is testing China's resolve to stick to adjustments it has made to its zero-Covid policy, which calls for cities to be more targeted in their clampdown measures and steer away from widespread lockdowns and testing that have strangled the economy and frustrated residents.

Beijing reported 962 new infections on Sunday, up from 621 a day earlier, and a further 316 cases for the first 15 hours of Monday.

City authorities said people arriving in the capital from elsewhere in China would need to undergo three days of Covid testing before they are permitted to leave their homes or accommodation.

"The city is facing its most complex and severe prevention and control situation since the outbreak of the coronavirus," Liu Xiaofeng, the deputy director of Beijing's municipal Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told a media briefing.

Residents in Beijing's sprawling Chaoyang district, home to 3.5 million people as well as embassies and office complexes, were urged to stay home, with schools going online.

Streets were unusually quiet and most shops in the district other than those selling groceries appeared were shut.

Restaurants were empty but for one or two staff huddled at entrances around small tables showing "takeout only" signs.

"You can't go anywhere. Everything's closed. Customers cannot come, either. What can you do? You can do nothing," said Jia Xi, 32, a medical industry salesman.

Staff at building entrances carried out strict checks of mobile phone health apps with the command now familiar to all Beijingers: "Scan the code!"

Several Chinese cities began cutting routine community Covid-19 testing last week, including the northern city of Shijiazhuang, which became the subject of fervent speculation that it could be a test bed for policy relaxation.

But late on Sunday, Shijiazhuang announced it would conduct mass testing in six of its eight districts over the next five days after new daily local cases hit 641. It also encouraged residents to shop online and ordered some schools to suspend in-person classes.

Updated: November 21, 2022, 4:04 PM