Chinese capital issues work from home orders to stem Covid-19 outbreak

·4-min read

Millions of Beijingers have been asked to work from home as the capital city doubles down on efforts to tame the Omicron variant.

Authorities have sealed off more than 60 subway stations, most of them in Chaoyang district, the epicentre of the latest wave of Covid-19 cases.

Other public transport services, including buses and taxis, are also unavailable in Chaoyang and locked down areas in other districts.

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Beijing reported 39 new cases – 34 of them symptomatic – on Thursday, taking the total to 544 since April 22.

While the number is not high, the city has imposed stringent curbs to prevent a major outbreak before the Communist Party’s national congress – a key political gathering in autumn.

Those restrictions include several rounds of citywide mass testing and postponement of in-person classes for pupils and middle school students until next Thursday.

Municipal authorities said the pandemic was still unchecked and precautions must be maintained.

“This wave of the pandemic has affected 15 districts. It has spread fast in a wide range of areas,” Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center of Disease Prevention and Control said on Thursday.

“There are still hidden sources of infection. Chains of transmission have not been completely blocked,” she said, suggesting the curbs will not be removed in the short term.

The municipal government has recommended people to work from home to limit movement around the city.

Companies must have no more than half of their employees working in the office. For the jobs that cannot be done elsewhere, companies should negotiate with their employees and pay no lower than the minimum wage.

Residents must also show a negative result from a PCR test taken within the previous 48 hours to enter any office buildings in the city.

Dine-in services are banned in all restaurants and people are encouraged to order takeaways or cook for themselves at home, according to the municipal government.

All entertainment and sports venues, from karaoke lounges to gyms and cinemas, have been closed indefinitely and in-person after-school activities, such as chess and dance clubs, are prohibited.

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For those who did make it to the office on Thursday, the commute was much longer.

Tian Wen, 32, lives in Chaoyang and her commute is usually a 25-minute subway trip to her office in Dongcheng district 7km (4.3 miles) away. With no subway, bus or taxi services, Tian went looking for a shared bike.

“I got up early at 7am to get the nucleic acid test done,” she said. “I queued up for about 20 minutes. It’s all right. After several rounds of mass testing in the past few weeks, I’m getting used to it.

“Then came the unexpected part. I walked for 10 minutes and failed to find any bicycles on the roadside. I had to walk another 10 minutes to have any luck. By that time, I was sweaty and had sore feet,” she said, adding that she managed to pedal to work in 45 minutes.

“Fortunately I wasn’t late. But I’ve already started feeling anxious at the thought of the fierce competition to find a bicycle after work.”

Hu Weiqiu, 33, rode his own bicycle to his office in Chaoyang but had to navigate a labyrinth of steel barriers to get there.

“I called my colleagues several times, trying to find out how to take a detour,” Hu said. “In the end, I was 15 minutes late. My boss yelled at me and I won’t get a bonus this month.

“To make things worse, my mother kept calling me at the morning conference. She had no clue how to help my seven-year-old son get online for his classes. What a mess!”

Beijing has ordered all students in kindergartens, and primary and middle schools to stay at home and study online until Wednesday.

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