Beijing has been dead quiet since I returned to the city at the beginning of February.
We have had a smattering of snow during this period. When the first snow came in November, the whole city was so excited and people came to the park to play in it. But these days, only a few people even go to the park.
Everyone has been told to stay home. Bright red banners are hung on empty streets to remind people to minimize trips, wear a mask and wash their hands. Our water delivery never came, our cleaning lady won’t come either.
We registered with the security guard at our compound’s gate on the first day of our arrival. We left them with our names, contacts, door number and where we had returned from. A few days later, a woman from the community called to ask for more information, such as our flight number and our ID numbers.
It was a sign that the local authorities in Beijing decided to step up measures.
Not long after, the city imposed a new policy that anyone who returns to the city will need to stay home for 14 days, no matter where they have come from.
Fortunately, we are not affected by this new policy (maybe because we are already registered). Our real estate agent told us that we had to pick up temporary passes for going in and out of our compound. We went down to the management office in our building to get them, after showing our lease to prove we are residents.
A local friend told me he will not be able to get this temporary pass until he has stayed home for 14 days. He is on his way back to Beijing.
The security guards, no longer friendly but more alert, will not open the gate for us unless we show these new paper passes. They are now equipped with a thermometer to check everyone’s body temperature at a booth recently set up at the gate.
Tech companies have launched apps to help people track the outbreak. On Baidu map, China’s equivalent of Google Maps, I can locate patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus. The nearest one is less than three kilometers from us. People can also check if any of these patients were on the same flights, buses or trains with them. No one on my flight has been confirmed to be infected with the virus.
Life coming to a standstill
My partner’s school has postponed their reopening date again, from Feb 17 to March 2. Another delay does not surprise us anymore. Teachers are arranging e-learning for the students.
We’ve been just working from home over this period and we hardly go out. We went down twice to the supermarket in a shopping mall 500 meters away. None of the shops or restaurants on the way were open. Some of them still had notices on the door that said they are reopening on Feb 3 or an earlier date. No one expected this extension of the Chinese New Year holidays.
We made the first trip on the day of our arrival. There were still some shoppers and the supermarket was well stocked. But none of the shops in the mall were open. The mall was dark and quiet.
When we returned a week later, we had our body temperature checked three times on the way there. Besides the check at our compound, the security guards in the mall only left one entrance open and they set up a table to check everyone’s body temperature there. We got another check when we entered the supermarket. There were fewer shoppers this time.
The supermarket has put on QR codes to encourage shoppers to place their orders online and they promised 60-minute delivery. I placed my first order a few days later. The grocery came after two days.
More of us have turned to online shopping now, ordering fresh produce, meat, groceries and everything we need. The delivery guys are the only ones going around town to keep the city going. They no longer deliver to your door though. We need to pick up our delivery at the gate, where packages are piling up.
Fresh produce and inventories change every day. Online shoppers constantly keep an eye on what is put on the sites to grab whatever is still available. A lot of items have been sold out in Chaoyang district, a busy part of Beijing. Anything marked with n antiseptic has long gone. I was lucky to grab the last two disinfectants when they suddenly appeared on the shopping app one day.
The Chinese government encourages businesses to resume work from Monday. Although big chains such as McDonald’s and KFC have been open during this period, finally more restaurants in our neighbourhood are dragging themselves back to business. We ordered a food delivery package for the first time in 17 days.
But still, shops, clubs, bars; anywhere people congregate remain closed. There is no sign as to when the city will return to normal.