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Beijing tightens Covid restrictions as long holiday begins

BEIJING (AFP) – Restaurants across Beijing will temporarily ban dining-in and residents will need clear Covid tests to visit public spaces, officials said yesterday, in a major ramp up of virus controls at the start of the Labour Day holiday.

The five-day break is typically one of China’s busiest travel periods, but the country’s worst Covid resurgence since early in the pandemic is expected to keep people home.

Faced with the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Chinese officials have doubled down on their zero-Covid policy, quashing virus clusters through mass testing and lockdowns.

Despite mounting economic costs and public frustration, the capital city announced it would further restrict access to public spaces during and after the holiday period.

From May 1 to 4, the city’s eateries will halt dining-in, and only allow deliveries, local commerce official Ding Jianhua told a press briefing yesterday.

Authorities also said they have so far prepared 4,000 makeshift hospital beds – typically used for patients with light or no Covid symptoms – and are speeding up set-up of larger quarantine sites.

A negative Covid test taken within the past week will also be needed starting May 5 to enter “all kinds of public areas and to take public transport”, according to a notice on the city’s official WeChat page.

For activities such as sporting events and group travel, participants will also need to show a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours, along with proof of “full vaccination”, according to the new rules.

A health worker takes a swab sample from a woman to be tested for Covid-19 along a street in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP