Beijing tourist spots empty out on COVID-related holidays

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A security member stands guard at the entrance to the Forbidden City on the first day of the Labor Day holiday in Beijing on May 1, 2022. AFP

BEIJING — Beijing’s major sights were virtually deserted on Sunday and restaurant traffic came to a halt as a usually busy public holiday was overshadowed by a Covid outbreak that turned away millions of people under lockdown across the country.

China’s staunchly zero-Covid policy has kept the virus at bay for more than two years, but is now facing its worst outbreak since the pandemic began thanks to a wave fueled by Omicron.

Millions of people across the country – especially in economic powerhouse Shanghai – have been forced to stay home for weeks as lockdowns have dampened economic growth and investor sentiment in the world’s second-largest economy.

Beijing has so far reported more than 300 cases in the current surge, and authorities on Saturday banned citywide food services from Sunday to May 4 – an attempt to curb infections during a public holiday. which is usually a peak annual consumption period.

“It will have a definite impact on sales,” a restaurant worker surnamed An told AFP as she searched for customers in Beijing’s Dongcheng district, home to historic attractions like the Forbidden City.

Nearby restaurants have been closed, with some only allowing customers to order takeout if they have a negative covid test.

The restriction is the latest measure ordered by authorities in Beijing, who say all visitors to public spaces must have a negative test result in the past 48 hours.

“Of course, we will follow the rules of the country,” An said. But “we make less profit from delivery, and our sales volume is lower.”

The Temple of Heaven – one of China’s biggest historical attractions – is usually crowded with tens of thousands of jostling visitors a day. But on Sunday, masked families could take selfies without any interruptions along the imperial complex.

Even the downtown shopping street, Wangfujing – a shopping paradise with food stalls and fashionable outlets – was deserted.

At an unusually quiet restaurant not far from the palace complex of the Forbidden City, piles of marinated chicken feet, flatbreads and cold meats in take-out containers languished on an outdoor table as staff chatted lazily outside. interior.

“Obviously it’s bad for our own interest, but overall it’s necessary for the good of the country,” said a young server who did not give his name.

“We would normally sell 10,000 yuan ($1,500) worth of food per day, but now it’s only 1,000 to 2,000 yuan ($300),” he added.

Instead of entering the Forbidden City, lines of people waited outside the palace complex to take a swab test – a new normal for people in Beijing.

Universal Studios closed

About 30 kilometers (24 miles) east of the palace on the city’s outskirts, Universal Studios – Beijing’s largest western theme park with Jurassic World and Harry Potter-themed areas – has announced its indefinite closure. Sunday.

It was launched in September and welcomed more than two million visitors in five months.

The Labor Day holiday was meant to be a massive business blow for the park – which earlier this week initially demanded a negative Covid test within 24 hours of visiting.

The capital reported 59 new infections on Sunday, as authorities announced the reopening of a Covid quarantine hospital which has not been mobilized since the first wave of the pandemic in 2020.

All indoor fitness activities – such as public gyms and swimming pools – were suspended from Sunday until May 4, while authorities say around 4,000 makeshift hospital beds had been prepared and larger centers quarantine were under construction.

“There are still a small number of hidden infected (patients) discovered through community testing,” Beijing health official Pang Xinghuo said at a press briefing on Sunday.

“The epidemic is globally at a high plateau period.”

Meanwhile in Shanghai, officials said on Sunday that “the risk of community transmission has been effectively reduced” and that daily infections are trending down.

The financial hub of 25 million people has been in lockdown for nearly a month, with residents complaining of food shortages and a lack of timely medical care.

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