Coronavirus prompts Beijing residential lockdown as millions return to work

Frank Tang

China’s capital Beijing has escalated measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus by ordering residential communities and villages to limit access for outsiders, as millions of workers return to the megacity after prolonged holidays.

In a 10-point circular published on Sunday, Beijing’s municipal authority ordered that check points be established to examine body temperatures and only residents’ vehicles be allowed into each community. A complete lockdown could be imposed on the area if a confirmed coronavirus case was discovered.

“As our city is facing the peak period of returning population, epidemic prevention is now at a critical stage,” the circular said.

Beijing is one of China’s most at-risk cities from the coronavirus outbreak as millions are pouring in from extended Lunar New Year holidays. On Monday alone, some 600,000 were expected to arrive in the city by train and another 140,000 by air, according to government estimates, posing a serious challenge to authorities.

The capital, which is home to more than 20 million people, had reported at least 337 confirmed novel coronavirus cases and 207 suspected cases as of Monday afternoon.

The virus, which has been declared a global health emergency, has infected more than 40,000 people and killed more than 900, the overwhelming majority in mainland China.

At the same time it is stepping up its defence against the outbreak, Beijing is also trying to resume normal economic activity. Cai Qi, the Communist Party secretary of Beijing, said the city must resume production in an “orderly and safe” fashion.

Construction work on a theatre, a library and a museum in Tongzhou, the new location of the Beijing municipal government, started again on Sunday, according to the Beijing government.

The latest notice endorsed a “no outsider” policy that has already been widely adopted by many residential compounds and villages in Beijing, which is expected to host the country’s biggest annual political gathering in three weeks. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the central government is considering calling off the ceremonial National People’s Congress, Reuters has reported.

Beijing’s latest directive requires all those returning to the city to report to local community officials on the day of arrival. Residents who had travelled to Hubei and other hard-hit areas, or who had close contact with people from there, within 14 days of arriving in Beijing would be put under home quarantine.

Anyone deemed potentially infected by medical professionals would be put into centralised quarantine, according to the notice. Criminal charges could be made against people who refused to cooperate.

Property agents in the city are required to give information about rentals and tenants to local authorities and short-term leases and home-sharing have been largely suspended.

Airbnb said on Monday it had suspended check-ins at all Beijing listings until March to comply with local regulations, while rival local companies such as Xiaozhu and Tujia will do the same.

In Wangjing, a large residential community close to the international airport, security guards check the temperature of everyone entering. People with luggage were asked to register their ID, phone number and any contact they had with infected regions.

Beijing, which was hard hit by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2002-2003, is disinfecting parts of the city and has already shut down some community spaces.

Authorities have said supermarkets and drug stores must stay open to provide daily necessities. Designated areas have been established for deliveries of food and personal items.

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