Chinese find ways to circumvent Covid zero restrictions in Beijing
Since the beginning of May, the Chinese capital has been facing a coronavirus outbreak that has surpassed 1,600 infections, a high number for China, which applies a strict zero covid policy.
Children play in a canal, mahjong players ignore distance, and young people sneak out for a beer. With the health restrictions by the Covid-19you Beijingers find ways to relax.
Since the beginning of May, the Chinese capital has been facing a coronavirus outbreak that has surpassed 1,600 infections, a high number for the country. Chinawhich applies a strict policy of covid zero.
The outbreak has not officially left any deaths in the city of 22 million people, but schools, restaurants, non-essential businesses and several parks are closed.
Residents, tested daily or nearly daily, are asked to work from home. Those who live in areas where cases of contagion have been recorded must remain confined.
But many play cat and mouse with the authorities, defying instructions from the Communist Party, which has made its anti-covid policy a hallmark of its legitimacy.
“Everything is closed: cinemas, museums, even football fields”, complains Eric Ma, a young computer scientist who went for a few beers with friends on the banks of a canal in the center of the city after a day of work at home. “I’m getting claustrophobic. It takes imagination to find a way to have fun,” he says.
Metal barriers prevent people from lying on the grass beside the canal, which has been the site of large picnics in recent weeks.
Access to banks is allowed, but controlled and there are guards to avoid crowds.
“Be patient: you will enjoy the sun when the pandemic passes”, say the large blue signs installed along the canal.
But the instructions don’t stop dozens crowding the docks or a few taking a dip.
In the water, a middle-aged man sings a traditional opera song.
Other passersby bring folding chairs and tables, and even a gas heater, for a picnic.
“Sometimes the guards come and send us away,” says Reiner Zhang, a stylist who spreads her tablecloth near the Liangmahe canal in a neighborhood dotted with embassies. “People are tired of layoffs and pay cuts and need to come together to vent,” he explains.
Nearby, some mothers enjoy a watermelon while their little ones have fun.
“It makes them move around a bit,” says Niu Honglin, whose seven-year-old son bathes in the canal. “As the parks are closed, they have nowhere to play. Children throw tantrums when they stay at home all day with distance classes”, laments the mother of the family.
In the streets of the historic quarter, rickshaw pullers are unemployed because tourists cannot enter certain areas.
Nearby, around Lake Houhai, docks filled with bars and cafes are now hidden behind a barrier. “It’s to prevent people from crowding together, because the epidemic situation is serious”, explains a worker.
During the day, though, local retirees get together to play cards, checkers, chess or mahjong without worrying about distancing rules.
“We come here every day after lunch and play until sunset,” says a retiree who identifies himself as Zao. “We’ve been doing this for years, the pandemic won’t stop us.”