At an apartment complex in southern Beijing that is under lockdown, residents could not leave their homes in a gated cluster of low-rise brick buildings. Uniformed security guards and medical workers in protective gear watched the gate.
Around the corner in the Baizhifang neighborhood lay a different world. Shops were open. A supermarket was doing a brisk business. Residents came and went and seemed unfazed by a new coronavirus outbreak. “It should not be as serious as last time,” said Johnny Zhao, a resident who wore a white face mask as he walked toward the supermarket. “The government is very experienced now.”
As China tries to stifle the new outbreak in its capital city, it is applying something often alien to the instincts of the country’s rulers: restraint.
The brunt of the government’s measures has been borne by food traders at markets that were sealed off after cases were found, and by the residents of more than four dozen apartment complexes placed under lockdown. But in many other Beijing neighborhoods, the shops, restaurants and even hair salons are still operating. Traffic is a little lighter than usual, but plenty of cars are still on the road. City sidewalks remain busy.
Beijing’s leaders are trying to stamp out the latest outbreak, now at 183 infections after 25 more were announced on Friday morning. But they are not crushing the entire city, and its nascent economic revival, with heavy-handed restrictions.
The approach contrasts with China’s earlier efforts to contain the virus in the central province of Hubei and its capital city, Wuhan, where the epidemic broke out late last year. For over two months, the city of 11 million was under a tight lockdown that required support from tens of thousands of doctors, party officials and security personnel. The lockdown helped control the outbreak but also stalled the economy.
If successful, the new approach being taken in Beijing could be a bellwether for how China may handle future outbreaks, which many experts say are almost certain.
“You cannot expect people to accept the pain for too long,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who has closely followed China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “Because then you have unemployment problems and even emotional stresses that could all have huge implications for social and political stability.”
It’s a dilemma that Chen Tao, a 34-year-old vegetable farmer in Beijing, knows too well. His business selling produce at the vast Xinfadi wholesale food market in the city’s southwest came to an abrupt halt a week ago when the government sealed off the site at the center of the new outbreak.
Earlier this week, he loaded chrysanthemum greens onto a motorized cart and parked it across the street from the market, which was sealed off by heavy steel crowd-control barriers at least seven feet tall. He waited, but with the authorities warning the public that the entire area was risky, practically no shoppers showed up.
“What can be done, what can I do?” he asked. “The vegetables have been growing in the field for a month, and I can’t let them rot in the field.”
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has not publicly discussed Beijing’s outbreak. But he had called repeatedly this spring for a “people’s war,” or all-out mobilization, to stamp out the coronavirus.
There are still traits of that in Beijing’s latest effort. School has been canceled across the city, frustrating senior high school students preparing for make-or-break university entrance exams next month. At least half the flights out of the city and essentially all of the buses to other provinces have been canceled. Fewer people are taking city buses and the subway.
City officials say their cautious approach is bearing fruit: the number of new cases per day is already dropping. Officials in Beijing appear increasingly confident that they have caught the outbreak before it could spin out of control through untraceable infections.
Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday that the city had contained the outbreak. But he said that the government was still actively investigating shuttered meat and seafood markets to trace the path of the virus and urged that officials and the public stay vigilant.
Key to the government’s containment strategy is aggressive testing and contact tracing. The government set up testing stations at hospitals, park entrances, stadiums and community centers, taking and processing swabs from 1.1 million people in less than a week.
The authorities required supermarket workers, restaurant employees and health care workers to be tested, as well as all neighbors of the 183 confirmed cases. Anyone going within blocks of the shuttered Xinfadi market receives an automated cellphone text message urging an immediate test.
At Tiantan Stadium in southern Beijing, an orderly stream of people arrived from all directions. They were met by teams of volunteers and health workers. Li Donghai, a 43-year-old home health care worker, said his employer had sent him there to get tested on Thursday.
Mr. Li said as he emerged from the stadium that he had made an appointment on his cellphone but still had to wait half an hour in line when he arrived. Everyone in the line was required to stay a meter apart, he said. Workers took a sample from his throat, he said, a procedure that took mere seconds, and he expected to get the results later by phone.
“I think the outbreak will end quickly because many people like me are getting tested,” he said.
The government has also dismissed two local officials and the general manager of the Xinfadi market, accusing them of acting too slowly and sloppily against the outbreak. Yet officials are also being told to restart economic activity — a potentially incompatible goal.
“That sends a signal to local officials,” Mr. Huang, of the Council on Foreign Relations, said. “Even if you were told to accelerate the reopening, still the top priority is keeping the number at zero, and that can be mission impossible.”
Updated June 16, 2020
I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
What is pandemic paid leave?
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.
My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
In fighting epidemics, Chinese people have often accepted the government-imposed controls and monitoring that many in Western countries might resist. Still, the Chinese government, even with its fearsome array of authoritarian powers, may feel pressure to calibrate its response to outbreaks or risk exhausting public cooperation and stifling economic growth.
“With a war, you can fight it once and people go all out for it. But the second, third and fourth time, it drains people out, and its traction diminishes over time,” said Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who studies China. “That is very much the risk. For subsequent waves, it has to be a more inclusive approach. It has already drained people.”
Such an approach might explain how residents in the Anhuali neighborhood in northern Beijing, on the other side of the city from the outbreak at the Xinfadi markets, said it was hard to tell that there was a coronavirus outbreak in the city at all.
“We are not worried, no one in our neighborhood is worried or scared, because it is in Xinfadi,” said Mu Xicheng, a retired construction worker. “We all wear masks because the government asks us to wear them — it’s good for us and also good for our country.”
Bin Wei, a middle-aged computer programmer, said that public reactions had been shaped by previous outbreaks of disease like SARS in 2003, which also hit Beijing hard, and the first wave of the coronavirus in January and February.
“We have experienced SARS and we also experienced the early outbreak,” he said. “This time, it’s OK.”
Amber Wang contributed research.