Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Shunned and stranded: Beijingers are the 'unwanted' ones now

BEIJING – At the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Beijing was turning away people from other provinces in a bid to protect the capital.

Those who returned to the city to work had to be tested and quarantined, while tourists from out of town were shut out.

But the tables have turned on Beijingers, who are finding themselves shunned and stranded, after a cluster of infections broke out in the city’s biggest wholesale food market last week, sickening more than 100 people and counting.

Madam Zhang He took her five-year-old son home to her parents in Qiqihar in Heilongjiang province on Saturday (June 13), thinking they could help her look after him as she and her husband were too busy with work.

But once she reached her parents’ gate, community workers guarding it checked her mobile health code, which had turned from green to red, and ordered her to be tested.

She thought she could still return to Beijing on Tuesday (June 16) and had bought a train ticket. But even after her test result came back negative, city officials insisted she had to be in quarantine for 14 days before she could leave for Beijing.

“I’m now stuck and unable to work, and it’s making me so anxious,” said the 35-year-old online trainer.

“When I left early Saturday morning, there was just one confirmed case in Beijing. I never expected they would be so strict here,” added Madam Zhang, who has to undergo another nucleic acid test at the end of her quarantine.

With the Dragon Boat Festival holiday coming up next week (June 25) and uncertain or shifting regulations from province to province, holidaymakers from Beijing have had to cancel their trips.

Entrepreneur Wang Lin, 50, had spent the last two months planning a nearly 4,000km cross-country road trip from Wuxi in eastern Jiangsu province to Xinjiang in the west, stopping to pick up two friends in Henan’s Zhengzhou along the way.

But after hearing of the outbreak in Beijing, the trio checked with friends in Xinjiang who told them they may be turned away at the border: one of Mr Wang’s travelling companions holds a Beijing identification card.

“I just can’t reconcile with it. We had planned to travel for up to a year,” said an exasperated Mr Wang.

The mood in the capital city has been one of unease in the past few days, as the number of infected cases climb steadily.

Over the weekend, streets were visibly more empty, as were restaurants.

Madam Hu Xia, a cleaner in a five-star Beijing hotel, said she is worried about her job after seeing the number of cases surge in Beijing.

When the gym she worked at folded after Chinese New Year, she was “very lucky” to land the hotel job soon after, she said.

“Hopefully, because it’s a bigger company and business has been improving, we wouldn’t be affected too badly,” added the 46-year-old.

“But it is disheartening to see this outbreak happening, after all the drastic efforts made previously to keep the virus from spreading.”

Tech executive Pete Li is hoping Beijing will step up its anti-coronavirus measures, so he can go back to working from home.

“You can’t help feeling like a lockdown is coming, it’s just something waiting to happen,” he said.

“It’s perhaps the best way to contain the virus, too.”

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