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Downtown Beijing goes quiet as zero-Covid policy smothers capital

BEIJING (AFP) – Millions of people in Beijing stayed home yesterday as China’s capital tries to fend off a Covid-19 outbreak with creeping restrictions on movement.

Beijing residents fear they may soon find themselves in the grip of the same measures that have trapped most of Shanghai’s 25 million people at home for several weeks. Officials there have said the eastern powerhouse is winning its battle against the country’s worst outbreak since the pandemic began.

Yet the Shanghai lockdown has intensified, causing outrage and rare protest in the last major economy still glued to a zero-COVID policy.

That policy has winded an economy which just months ago had shown China was bouncing back from the pandemic.

Customs data released yesterday said exports in April slumped to their lowest monthly rate since June 2020, as key supply chains became knotted by restrictions.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China found that many of its member companies in Shanghai were still shut, with others delaying investments across the country in the face of the disruption.

In the face of “the world’s most extensive and unpredictable quarantine requirements”, chairman Colm Rafferty warned the business community was “bracing for a mass exodus of foreign talent”.

In Beijing, subway stations and offices were empty during rush hour yesterday morning across its most populous district of Chaoyang after officials stepped up a work-from-home order over rising Covid cases. Non-essential businesses were shuttered in the district of 3.5 million people, with even the Apple store in the popular Sanlitun shopping area ordered to close after opening briefly.

“I feel very uncomfortable seeing so few people around,” Wang, a middle-aged cleaner waiting outside a restaurant for her shift to start, told AFP.

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