Beijing’s old quarters shrug off fresh coronavirus outbreak

By Jesus Centeno

Beijing, Jun 25 (efe-epa).- As they come out on the streets in their pajamas without wearing masks, the residents of the “hutongs,” – the age-old alleyways in central Beijing lined by small traditional houses – remain oblivious of a fresh wave of coronavirus infections and trust the authorities to keep things in control.

While some have decided to undergo a test to remove any lingering doubts, many are unconcerned about the fact that city authorities have raised the alert level to tackle the outbreak, even though the government says it has been controlled.

The fresh wave of infections, tracked to a wholesale food market in the capital, has led to 252? confirmed cases so far and the detection of fresh patients iss already in its final phase according to Chinese experts.

“Yes, the curve is flattening because the outbreak was detected early and a large contagion was prevented. Here in the hutong we are safe. The security prevents potential infections from entering,” Hu, a taxi driver and resident of the Xicheng district, told EFE.

He added that the main problem was that the city had been paralyzed and he hadn’t had fares, with the taxi parked off nearby.

“But it isn’t a problem for us. We don’t need too much and help each other. Life goes very slowly in this area, many of the locals are already retired,” Hu said.

He was concerned about mass testing being carried out, but said he trusted measured imposed by neighborhood communities, which have been diligently checking the identity and taking temperature of those entering the area.

Meanwhile at the popular Houhai lake – currently closed to visitors – around a dozen people ranging from senior citizens to schoolchildren can be seen defying the virus in the water a few meters away from the ancient imperial quarters of the Chinese capital.

“I come here every year to take a dip when the lake melts, and would not have stopped doing it now. I believe the measures are adequate, it’s difficult for the virus to spread here, it is under control,” one of the bathers told EFE, identifying himself as Zhang after a plunge.

However, the residents of seven local communities in a neighborhood of the Xicheng district – where the lake is situated – had no such luck as they were put under isolation in preventive measure after a new Covid-19 case was detected in the Tiantao Honglian market.

The communities in the areas considered “high-risk” have been sealed and nobody is being allowed to exit them.

In the Chezhanxi street of the same district, locals faced city officials wearing red armbands who have been tasked with monitoring who enters and leaves each building and calling the police if necessary.

“I want to go out for a moment to buy tobacco,” one of the resident argues before being stopped by a woman at the check-post established near the entrance of the community, before being sarcastically told to give up smoking as he wasn’t going anywhere.

Such barricades have been common in some areas of Beijing for months, ever since the virus first started spreading, with some of them gaining popularity on the internet for the rigorous work done by the officials.

Most shops, cafes and bars are open in the heritage street of Nanluoguxiang, a hutong built during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) that offers a window to how the city looked before the skyscrapers took over. However, there are hardly any clients.

Some of the shop-fronts display “for rent” signs even as owners fear massive losses. .

“Just over a month ago, during the long-weekend in May, this street was full of people. Now it’s a ruin. There are no tourists, nobody wants to come to Beijing right now,” lamented Mrs Xu, who runs a teashop.

The owner of a Japanese restaurant in the same district said that he had to suspend reopening his business this month due to the fresh outbreak, and feared that it would not be viable to open even in the future as Chinese consumers might stop eating salmon fearing infection.

As per the information available so far, this time the infections may have originated from a salmon chopping board at the city’s main wholesale market, although experts have said that there is no clear evidence that contagion occurs by eating contaminated food, including fish.

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