Beijing shuts parks and museums as Covid outbreak nears April peak

China sealed access to capital Beijing’s parks, shopping malls and museums amid a spike in Covid cases in the country with more than 28,000 infections reported nationwide on Tuesday, sparking fears of harsher restrictions to control the outbreak.

China is already reeling under the strict zero-Covid policy which has torpedoed its economy, being the only major economy to enforce harsh restrictions on locals with the pandemic clocking its third year in the nation.

Officials in Beijing have asked residents to stay indoors, with popular public landmarks like Happy Valley amusement park and the city’s Chaoyang Park - famous among runners and picnic-goers - closed on Tuesday.

At least 1,438 new local cases have been reported from Beijing, up from 962 reported on Sunday - soaring to its record daily high since the pandemic began.

Two more deaths due to the deadly contagion have been recorded, health officials said, in addition to three seen over the weekend in nearly six months.

The situation unfolding in Beijing is the most complex and severe yet seen in the city, said Liu Xiaofeng, the deputy director of the municipal centre for disease control and prevention, on Monday.

Southern Guangdong province and the city of Chongqing remain the biggest hotspots of Covid infections among other regions with more than 16,000 and 6,300 cases respectively, officials said. These account for almost half of the total cases China has witnessed in the last 24 hours.

Schools are now functioning online in Beijing, along with restaurants shutting down and employees told to work from home.

The municipality of Tianjin, near Beijing is now among the latest areas to order city-wide testing, after a similar announcement on Sunday by Shijiazhuang.

On Monday, Beijing authorities warned that the capital city is facing its most severe test of the pandemic as it ordered further tightening of the rules for those entering the city. People wanting to visit Beijing from elsewhere in China will have to undergo three days of Covid testing before they can leave their accommodation.

Even though China watered down some of the restrictions earlier this month with visible protests from frustrated residents who are forced in lockdowns and have to take regular testing, the country ranks as the global outlier to follow harshest curbs.

Localities accounting for about 19.9% of China’s total gross domestic product were under some form of lockdown or curbs, a new in-house index by Nomura analysts showed on Tuesday.

This is a sharp rise from 15.6% seen last Monday and comes very close to the index’s measured peak from April this year when Shanghai was battered by the Covid outbreak.

Officials in Wuhan — where the contentious discovery of the virus was first made — urged its residents to only travel between home and work on Tuesday.

Top official behind China’s zero Covid policy, vice premier Sun Chunlan, visited Chongqing on Monday and asked authorities to adhere to the measures and bring the outbreak under control.