Lockdowns, shut schools: Beijing steadies itself for second wave of coronavirus
BEIJING — Finance executive Wang Ying was looking forward to finally having some time off on vacation now that her 10-year-old son was back in school for a week and having finished a busy period at work.
“It felt like we’d crossed a huge hurdle and could finally relax somewhere nearby before working to get our lives back on track. Little did we know this would happen,” Madam Wang, 35, told The Straits Times.
She is among tens of thousands of Beijingers whose estates have been put under lockdown after new coronavirus cases surfaced in the capital, barely a fortnight after the city reduced strict control measures.
Her home in the Xicheng district of central Beijing was close to a market labelled a “hot spot” and was ordered to undergo a two-week lockdown, with no one allowed in or out of residential estates.
For Beijingers like Madam Wang, the brush with near normalcy has been equal parts hopeful and disheartening – the familiarity of a pre-pandemic life, and a glimpse into what might be the new normal.
After Beijing raised its emergency response level to two, the second highest, recently reopened junior and middle schools have been ordered to shut. Kindergartens, meant to restart this week, have had their reopening pushed back indefinitely.
This means that all students have to return to online learning, a way of life for nearly four months.
Local media carried pictures of high school students hugging each other farewell at school gates on Wednesday morning (June 17) before a banner that said “Welcome back to school!” in Chinese and English.
Having gone through months of e-learning since schools were shut in February, homemaker You Lan’s children have become used to the format now, she said.
“But whether they like it or not, that’s another discussion,” she said with a laugh.
Yet with the recent outbreak happening so close to home, she has started going back to her past practices like insisting her children stay home unless absolutely necessary and making everyone don face masks and surgical gloves when outside the home.
“The virus is right here at our doorstep, and we don’t even know how it originated, so there’s a lot more cause for worry,” she told ST from her home in the northern Changping district, more than 50km from the Fengtai district where the market is located.
Residents of medium- to high-risk districts have also been told they cannot leave the city to avoid being virus vectors – a ruling that has put a spanner in the works of Miss Zhu Ling’s relocation plans.
After a year of working in Beijing, the 22-year-old Hebei native decided she wanted to return home to start a small business and be with her family.
While her estate has not been put under lockdown, she has been prevented from leaving the city since Fengtai is the city’s only high-risk area.
“Hopefully after I take a nucleic acid test this week, they might relent a little bit,” she said, adding that she had sent most of her belongings ahead and was now left with just the basic necessities.
The resurgence in cases has also hurt businesses, which had been hoping consumption in June might help to bring them back into the black after the government issued consumption vouchers for residents to support local enterprises.
Residents are now afraid of dining out and many are eschewing personal care services like haircuts and massages for fear that close contact might spread the virus.
Since the weekend, salon owner Zhang Wensheng has seen a slew of appointment cancellations; he had no clients for all of Wednesday.
“There’s really no other way for services like ours. We try our best to sanitize and take all precautions but at the end of the day, we still need human contact to do our jobs,” he said.
“We thought we survived the worst, many of my friends have had to close shops, but I don’t know how much longer this can go on.”
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