Beijing relaxes COVID measures as fears of another outbreak linger
By John Liu
Beijing residents on Monday eagerly indulged in a privilege that they had not enjoyed in weeks: dining inside a restaurant.
The Chinese capital relaxed pandemic rules at midnight, including a ban on dining in, after a partial lockdown that lasted more than a month. Although the closures were not as strict as in Shanghai, authorities in Beijing had suspended some public transportation, forced some people to quarantine, and enforced work-from-home in much of the city.
Yet even as schools and offices are opening in waves and public transportation is being restored, other measures remained in place to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus. Everyone must wear a mask, have their temperature check, and take PCR tests for everyday activities like riding the subway or going to work.
The measures underscore the commitment of Chinese authorities to stamp out the virus completely, despite curbing economic growth and fueling anger among citizens. The steps have triggered limited and small protests. Still, some cities plan to carry out regular mass testing even in the absence of a local outbreak.
On Saturday, Liu Xiaofeng, deputy head of Beijing’s municipal disease prevention and control center, said at a news conference that the city’s situation was improving. But he warned that “decisive measures” were necessary to avoid a resurgence of cases.
Authorities said there were six confirmed cases on Sunday in Beijing and 86 reported across the country, down from more than 29,000 new daily infections at the height of this year’s outbreak in mid-April. The majority of the cases during the peak were in Shanghai.
It is unclear how long the relief may last, with cases reemerging in Shanghai as it struggles to reopen after two months of harsh lockdown. On Sunday, the city reported three community infections, prompting health officials to send a warning to its 25 million residents.
“The risk of epidemic rebound still exists,” Wu Jinglei, Shanghai’s health commissioner, said at a Sunday news briefing. “We cannot relax yet, but must be highly vigilant.”