Panic buying in Beijing as Covid surge spurs creeping restrictions
Beijing saw 1,854 new infections Thursday, up from 1,611 on Wednesday, as China’s wider outbreak reaches record levels. Delivery apps like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Freshippo — known as Hema in Chinese — and Walmart Inc’s Sam’s Club were running out of capacity to deliver on Thursday, and other grocery outlets in Chaoyang, Beijing’s biggest district, were no longer taking orders.
The case increase, which has escalated from under 100 infections a day a fortnight ago is leading to stepped-up controls in the city of 22 million, with apartment blocks across Chaoyang being locked down and residents asked not to leave Beijing unless necessary.
Yet officials are going about the restrictions in a quieter way, communicating through neighborhood committees and WeChat groups rather than with official announcements, potentially to downplay the disruption caused after China’s top leaders ordered a more targeted approach to containing Covid two weeks ago. A new 20-point virus playbook for officials advised against city-wide lockdowns and mass testing exercises, among other shifts, but has proven difficult to implement amid surging cases.
Schools in a number of Beijing districts have been shuttered, with students to learn from home, and anyone entering the capital is required to provide a negative PCR test result taken in the previous 48 hours before entering public venues or going on buses.
Beijing appears to be locking down apartment block by apartment block rather than issuing a sweeping order, an approach mirrored in some other major cities. Localized shutdowns in Chongqing, a strategically important city in China’s southwest, mean the metropolis is largely locked down, despite no sweeping order or directive.
Other cities have had to revert to the old playbook as cases spread within communities. Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, will effectively lock down from Friday for five days. Shijiazhuang, a city close to Beijing that eased a raft of testing in the wake of the new directives, had to backtrack within a few days and ask people to stay home.
Officials are having to reconcile twin imperatives of being less disruptive with their restrictions while also continuing to suppress the virus, in line with China’s Covid Zero policy. While health officials and state media continue to reinforce the need to adhere to “dynamic zero,” authorities have struggled to bring outbreaks under control without their usual toolkit, as cold weather descends and more contagious virus variants circulate.