With her 10-year-old son back in school for a week and having finished a busy period at work, finance executive Wang Ying was looking forward to having some time off on vacation.

“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,” the 35-year-old 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 its strict control measures.

Her home in the Xicheng district of central Beijing is close to a market labelled a “hot spot” and was ordered to be put under 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 to level 2 – the second-highest – recently reopened junior and middle schools were ordered to shut. Kindergartens, meant to restart this week, have had their reopenings 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 and bidding each other farewell at school gates yesterday morning, in front of a banner that said “Welcome back to school!”.

Having gone through months of e-learning since schools were shut in February, housewife You Lan’s children have become used to the format, she said. “But whether they like it or not, that’s another discussion,” she added with a laugh.

Volunteers disinfecting Yuegezhuang wholesale market in Beijing on Tuesday. The authorities ordered a disinfection and inspection of all wholesale markets, supermarkets and grocery stores after a market in Fengtai district was labelled a "hot spot".
Volunteers disinfecting Yuegezhuang wholesale market in Beijing on Tuesday. The authorities ordered a disinfection and inspection of all wholesale markets, supermarkets and grocery stores after a market in Fengtai district was labelled a “hot spot”. PHOTO: REUTERS

Yet, with the recent outbreak happening so close to home, she has started going back to her past practices, such as insisting her children stay home unless absolutely necessary, and making everyone wear 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 The Straits Times from her home in northern Changping district, more than 50km away 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.

This 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 to return home to start a small business and be with her family.

Her estate has not been put under lockdown, but because it is still within Fengtai district, which is considered high risk, she has been prevented from leaving the city.

“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 hoped consumption this month would 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 such as haircuts and massages.

Volunteers disinfecting Yuegezhuang wholesale market in Beijing on Tuesday. The authorities ordered a disinfection and inspection of all wholesale markets, supermarkets and grocery stores after a market in Fengtai district was labelled a "hot spot".

Junior high school students leaving school with their belongings yesterday, after all schools were ordered shut. PHOTO: REUTERS

Since the weekend, salon owner Zhang Wensheng has seen a slew of cancellations – he had no clients for the whole of yesterday.

“There’s really no other way for services like ours. We try our best to sanitise 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 (their) shops, but I don’t know how much longer this can go on.”

Additional reporting by Lina Miao



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