Fearful of coronavirus return, Beijing turns into virtual fortress

Beijing has imposed a strict 14-day quarantine on people arriving from other parts of China, regardless of whether they test negative for COVID-19 — a measure not required in other cities. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 14 April 2020

Fearful of coronavirus return, Beijing turns into virtual fortress

  • Beijing imposes a strict 14-day quarantine on people arriving from other parts of China
  • Toughest conditions are reserved for people traveling to Beijing from Wuhan

BEIJING: Beijing has virtually walled itself off to outsiders with drastic measures to protect China’s seat of power against the threat of a second wave of coronavirus infections from other regions.
After largely getting the outbreak under control, China has banned foreigners from entering the country as authorities fret over an increase in cases imported from abroad — though most have been Chinese citizens.
But Beijing has gone a step further, imposing a strict 14-day quarantine on people arriving from other parts of China, regardless of whether they test negative for COVID-19 — a measure not required in other cities.
Beijing, of course, is not like any other Chinese city.
The ruling Communist Party postponed its once-a-year congress, known as the “two sessions,” in March and experts said it likely wants to make sure the thousands of delegates who participate are not at risk before a new date is set.
“Strengthening management of people returning to Beijing has become the most critical priority, otherwise it is impossible to create the right conditions for the two sessions to start,” said Ma Liang, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Public Administration and Policy.
The measures are ultimately meant to shield the Communist Party elite from the virus, said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy.
“In this moment, the central government and core leadership are highly protected, so ordinary people will have to pay the price,” he said.
Beijing has imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all returning students, who must test negative to attend school. All hotel guests must test negative within seven days prior to their stay.
The measures have already deterred some from going back.
Chen Na, a carer from Anhui province, cannot return to her former employer in Beijing because her area was labelled “high-risk.”
“When they see where I’m from, the conversation stops. I can’t even get an interview. I’ve been out of work since February,” she said.
But the toughest conditions are reserved for people traveling to Beijing from Wuhan, the central city where the virus first emerged late last year.
Those leaving the city, whose months-long lockdown was lifted April 8, must test negative within seven days before their return date, undergo a 14-day quarantine once they arrive, and test negative again in order to be released.
Other cities only require those from Wuhan and Hubei province to produce a green health code on a special app and a negative nucleic acid test result.
They must first request to return to Beijing through an app when they receive their negative diagnosis.
If approved, they have to submit another request to purchase train tickets to the capital, which are limited to 1,000 seats per day on two services.
“I originally bought tickets for the 12th, but I was told on the evening of the 7th that I needed a negative test result in order to return,” said Wuhan resident Liu Shiyi, who arrived in Beijing by train on Sunday.
One day before her train was due to leave, her residential compound said she needed to obtain a paper copy of her negative certificate from the hospital.
“The whole time, my compound received orders from above in a very delayed fashion, making me waste time going back and forth,” she said.
At two major Wuhan train stations, AFP saw that special lanes for Beijing-bound travelers had been set up and were crewed by several volunteers.
There are an estimated 11,000 Beijing residents stranded in Wuhan, officials said last week, but the city has lately seen a surge in asymptomatic cases which are notoriously difficult to detect.
During a recent visit to the Beijing West Railway Station, AFP saw that arrivals from Hubei were handled in a separate area and boarded designated buses bound for each district.
Between April 8 and April 13, some 1,037 people returned to Beijing from Wuhan. None tested positive for COVID-19.


At least two killed as car ploughs into pedestrian zone in German town

Updated 01 December 2020

At least two killed as car ploughs into pedestrian zone in German town

  • The driver was arrested and the vehicle was impounded, Trier police tweeted
  • Two people have died, and 15 others had suffered serious injuries

BERLIN: At least two people including a child were killed and up to 15 injured on Tuesday when a speeding car ploughed into a pedestrian area in the western German city of Trier, authorities said.
Witnesses said people screamed in panic and some were thrown into the air by the car as it crashed through the shopping zone.
Police said several people had been killed, having earlier put the death toll at two, with more than 10 injured. The local newspaper, the Trierischer Volksfreund, put the death toll at four, including a child, but police did not confirm that figure.
"We have arrested one person, one vehicle has been secured," police said, adding that a 51-year-old German suspect from the Trier area was being questioned, police said.
Mayor Wolfram Leibe had rushed to the scene.
"We have a driver who ran amok in the city. We have two dead that we are certain of and up to 15 injured, some of them with the most severe injuries," he told public broadcaster SWR.
"I just walked through the city centre and it was just horrible. There is a trainer lying on the ground, and the girl it belongs to is dead," he told a news conference, with tears stopping him from speaking further.
He told broadcaster N-TV that people who saw the incident were "totally traumatised" and the street "looks a bit like after a war".
Leibe said he did not know the motive for the incident, which shocked residents of Germany's oldest town, founded by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago.
The Trierischer Volksfreund quoted an eyewitness as saying a Range Rover was driving at high speed and people had been thrown through the air. It said the car had Trier plates.
It reported that people screamed in panic when the car drove through the street.
Officers were scouring the area in search of evidence, backed by police dressed in flak jackets and carrying rifles. On the streets, Christmas lights twinkled incongruously.
Germany has tightened security on pedestrian zones across the country since a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in 2016 that killed 12 people and injured dozens.
In October 2019, a man opened fire on a synagogue in the city of Halle. After failing to get into the building he went on a rampage outside, killing two people.
In February this year a racist gunman killed nine migrants in Hanau near Frankfurt before killing his mother and himself. Only about a week later, a local man ploughed his car into a carnival parade in the town of Volkmarsen, injuring 61.
Germany has tightened measures to fight the coronavirus, with bars and restaurants closed, but shops and schools are still open.
"What happened in Trier is shocking. Our thoughts are with the relatives of the victims, with the numerous injured and with everyone who is currently on duty to care for the victims," Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Twitter.