Ahead of the Olympics, abrupt closures threaten life in Beijing

BEIJING (AP) — Residents of Beijing face abrupt local shutdowns and extensive COVID-19 testing requirements as the Chinese capital seeks to prevent a coronavirus outbreak ahead of the Winter Olympics that open in less than two weeks.

BEIJING (AP) — Residents of Beijing face abrupt local shutdowns and extensive COVID-19 testing requirements as the Chinese capital seeks to prevent a coronavirus outbreak ahead of the Winter Olympics that open in less than two weeks.

Lockdowns are part of China’s ‘zero tolerance’ measures to fight the pandemic that have been tightened before the Games. These now include mandatory tests for anyone buying medicine to treat colds, coughs, fevers and other illnesses.

University student Cheryl Zhang said the health code app that all Chinese have installed on their smart phones started advising her to get tested after buying medicine four days before.

“I was seriously freaking out,” said Zhang, who was walking in front of the Olympic Village. “But when I arrived at the hospital and saw the medical staff trying to maintain order, I no longer felt anger. The problem was resolved very quickly. »

These purchases are tracked through a smart phone app that requires customers to swipe their information when buying health supplies or simply walking into pharmacies. China strictly controls drug sales and a doctor’s prescription is often required for ordinary cold medicine or even vitamins.

A notice posted at a Beijing pharmacy on Tuesday said anyone who had purchased any of the four types of medicine in the past two weeks had to take a test within 72 hours. Failure to do so would affect their health status as shown on their phones, “possibly affecting your outings and daily life,” the notice states.

In the residential community of Anzhen, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the main Olympic Village, residents were confined to their homes from Sunday morning to Tuesday afternoon. A notice stated that a building remained isolated.

No word was given on confirmed cases in the area, but all residents were to be tested for COVID-19, with a second round scheduled for Thursday. Residents should continue to monitor their health for two weeks after quarantine is lifted.

Strict policies are credited with removing major epidemics. China reported just 18 local infection cases on Tuesday, including five in Beijing. Few protested against these policies, also a reflection of China’s authoritarian Communist Party which restricts free speech and tolerates no opposition.

However, in Anzhen Community, an elderly resident said he wanted authorities to provide more information.

“I’m not too worried but I hope the situation can be more transparent,” said the man, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid trouble from community management. “We are close to the Olympic village and if they want to test everyone before the games we understand, but now the community has been locked down and we haven’t been told.”

A cluster of COVID-19 cases in Beijing prompted authorities to test millions and impose new measures, even as the city of Xi’an in north-central China lifted a ban on Monday. month-long lockdown that had isolated its 13 million people.

At least six Beijing neighborhoods have been targeted for lockdowns and officials in the capital have said they will carry out a second round of mass testing of the 2million residents of Fengtai district, where the majority of the 40 cases from the capital since January 15 have been discovered. Some trains and flights to Beijing have also been suspended to prevent travel from areas with outbreaks.

The harsh measures, despite a relatively low number of cases, illustrate the deep concern of government officials ahead of the opening of the Olympics in Beijing on February 4.

All Games participants will be tested upon arrival and daily and will be completely isolated from the general public.

More than 3,000 people have arrived for the Games since Jan. 4, including more than 300 athletes and team officials, as well as media and other attendees, organizers said Monday. So far, 78 people have tested positive, including one who was an athlete or team official.

While taking strict anti-pandemic measures, China ignored political controversies surrounding the Games related to Beijing’s human rights record.

Chinese President and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping told IOC President Thomas Bach on Tuesday that Beijing is ready to host “a simple, safe and splendid Winter Olympics”, the agency reported. Xinhua official press.

“Everything is ready for the Beijing Winter Olympics after more than six years of preparation,” Xi told Bach.

Jin Dong-yan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the small clusters so far are unlikely to affect the Winter Olympics.

He added that while publicly people don’t complain about the strict anti-virus policies, that’s a different story privately.

“In fact, under the table there are a lot of questions and protests and a lot of complaints” about the closures and other measures that are often imposed without notice on residents, Jin said.

He also questioned the usefulness of mass testing, saying the focus should be on “spreaders” who may be carrying the virus.

“This mass testing actually wastes a lot of resources, it’s completely unnecessary,” Jin said.

The overuse of health code apps has also raised privacy concerns among legal experts, Jin said. While most shops, offices and public buildings still require visitors to scan their codes, the requirement is more lax in residential communities, he said.

Back in the Anzhen community, chef Yang Haiping, who specializes in mutton hot pot, said his restaurant was forced to close temporarily after many employees were placed in quarantine.

Yang said he was serving food through police-guarded doors to colleagues who hadn’t had enough time to stock up.

“We will wait for the opinion on what to do next,” Yang said.


Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, and researchers Olivia Zhang and Caroline Chen in Beijing contributed to this report.

Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press

Carol N. Valencia