Beijing closes 10% of subway stations to curb the spread of COVID

BEIJING >> Beijing on Wednesday closed around 10% of the stations in its massive subway system as an additional measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

The subway authority only announced in a short message that the measure to close 40 mostly inner-city stations would be taken as part of disease control measures. A date for the resumption of service was not given.

Beijing has been on high alert over the spread of COVID-19, with restaurants and bars opening only for takeout, gyms closing and classes suspended indefinitely. Major tourist attractions in the city, including the Forbidden City and Beijing Zoo, have closed their indoor exhibition halls and are only partially utilized.

Some communities where cases were discovered have been isolated. People living in “controlled” areas have been told to stay within city limits, including 12 areas considered high-risk and another 35 medium-risk.

City residents will have to undergo three tests throughout the week as authorities try to detect and isolate cases without imposing the kind of sweeping lockdowns seen in Shanghai and elsewhere. A negative test result obtained within the last 48 hours is required to gain access to most public spaces.

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

The subway closures are expected to have relatively little impact on city life as China marks Labor Day this week and many commuters in the city of 21 million are already working from home.

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

All shops have been closed except supermarkets and fruit and vegetable shops. Outsiders generally avoid high-risk areas to avoid registering their presence in the tracing apps installed on virtually all mobile phones, creating potential problems for future access to public areas.

While taking a lighter note in Beijing, overall China has stuck to its strict “zero-COVID” approach, restricting travel, testing entire cities and setting up sprawling facilities to try to isolate any infected person. Lockdowns start with buildings and neighborhoods but become city-wide as the virus spreads widely.

This has caused the greatest disruption in Shanghai, where authorities are slowly easing restrictions that have kept most of the city’s 26 million residents locked in their apartments, condominiums or immediate neighborhoods for nearly a month, and in some cases longer.

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

The surprisingly low death toll from an outbreak of more than 400,000 cases in the city, which is home to China’s main stock exchange and largest port, has raised questions about how such deaths are counted.

The rigid and widely derided restrictions have resulted in shortages of food and medical aid, along with wider – if likely temporary – repercussions on the national economy. Desperate, outraged citizens have confronted authorities at barricades and online, shouting from their windows and banging pots and pans in signs of their frustration and anger.

Communist authorities, which do not tolerate dissent, have attempted to erase such protests from the internet, attributing the protests, including the beating of cooking utensils, to agitation by unidentified “foreign anti-China forces”.

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