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China’s capital city Beijing battles Covid with more apartment lockdowns

Beijing’s Covid restrictions have tightened as infection rates continue to rise, locking down communities.

Jade Gao | Afp | Getty Images

BEIJING — China’s capital comes to a near halt as Covid controls spread.

More and more Beijing apartment buildings banned residents on Friday from leaving for at least a few days. That comes on top of a growing number of bans on business activities, which have forced gyms to close and restaurants to stop serving in-store dining.

“This morning, most of our 30+ employees reported their communities went into a 7-day lockdown,” said James Zimmerman, partner in Perkins Coie’s Beijing office, said on Twitter Friday. He said a day earlier that the company should tell all its employees to work from home.

It was not clear how many people were affected at the city level and to what extent measures were enforced locally. Beijing has about 22 million inhabitants.

“You constantly hear that someone is going into lockdown and you constantly feel that you will be next,” Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU’s chamber of commerce in China, said on Friday. He estimated that about 40% of the people in his office area were incarcerated.

The Beijing city government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Municipal authorities have not announced a citywide lockdown, warning it is in a “critical” period to bring the virus under control.

Despite the gradual tightening of Covid measures over the past two weeks, local infections have risen enormously. The city of Beijing reported more than 1,800 Covid infections for Thursday, bringing the total for the month to more than 10,000.

Other parts of mainland China have reported similar increases in infections — reaching a nationwide new daily high of more than 32,000 for Thursday.

The central government this month gave an encouraging signal to investors about future reopening by, among other things, shortening quarantine times. But the zero-Covid policy itself did not change.

“Initially when the [new measures] came out, we felt somewhat positive. But now we find that the interpretation varies widely,” said Jennifer Birdsong, Chengdu-based member of the Southwest China Chapter Board of the EU Chamber. “There is a lot of variation in what can be interpreted as necessary lockdown.”

“At the moment we are also in a situation where bars, restaurants and gyms are all [were] closed last night,” she said, adding that business owners are frustrated with the lack of notice.

She said the restrictions have left some workers sleeping in factories only to find they can’t get food delivered.

Dive into road traffic

Data shows that people in Covid-affected areas are moving less, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Baidu traffic data showed that Beijing has dropped from the most congested city in all of China to 74th.

According to a Goldman Sachs report, the number of subway passengers in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing is down nearly 99% from a year ago.

That in the southern city of Guangzhou fell by about 65% from last year, the report said.

Guangzhou, the capital of the export province of Guangdong hardest hit by this month’s Covid wave. Some frustrated residents have even breached lockdown barriers, local officials said Thursday, according to state media.

Only parts of the city have been locked. But companies are concerned and are working overtime to ensure they can fulfill their orders undisturbed, said Klaus Zenkel, vice president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China and chairman of the South China chapter.

He said a food industry company had to close for about a week and lose hundreds of tons of an unspecified material.

Learn more about China from CNBC Pro

Members of the EU chamber in Shanghai are moving meetings online and taking other preventive measures, while in the northern city of Shenyang restaurants and gyms have had to close again, local business representatives said.

Overall, the EU chamber noted on Friday that more emphasis should be placed on vaccinating the local population. China lags behind the US and Singapore in senior vaccination rates.

In recent months, Chinese authorities have focused on using frequent virus testing and more targeted measures in an effort to contain Covid outbreaks while allowing certain business activities.

“We will continue to push papers… to the [Chinese] government, because I think they are looking for a way to deal with this situation,” Wuttke said. “China has a zero-tolerance policy and is finding it difficult to get itself out of this corner.”

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