Beijing closes 10% of its subway stations to curb coronavirus spread

Man being swabbed for coronavirus test
A man is tested for the coronavirus during the second day of mass testing in Beijing on Wednesday.
(Mark Schiefelbein / Associated Press)

China’s capital on Wednesday closed about 10% of the stations in its vast subway system as an additional measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

The subway authority said in a brief message that the measure to shut 40 stations, mostly in downtown Beijing, was being taken as part of epidemic-control measures. No date for the resumption of service was given.

Beijing has been on high alert for the spread of COVID-19, with restaurants and bars limited to takeout, gyms closed and classes suspended indefinitely. Major tourist sites in the capital, including the Forbidden City and the Beijing Zoo, have closed their indoor exhibition halls and are operating at only partial capacity.


A few communities where cases were discovered have been isolated. People residing in “controlled” areas have been told to stay within city limits, including 12 areas deemed high-risk and another 35 considered medium-risk.

City residents are required to undergo three tests throughout the week as authorities seek to detect and isolate cases without imposing the sort of sweeping lockdowns seen in Shanghai and elsewhere. A negative test result obtained within the previous 48 hours is required to gain entry to most public spaces.

Beijing on Wednesday recorded just 51 new cases, five of them asymptomatic.

China has sent more than 10,000 health workers to Shanghai, including 2,000 military medical staff, to help the city cope with a coronavirus outbreak.

The subway closings should have relatively little effect on city life, with China observing the international Labor Day holiday this week and many commuters in the city of 21 million already working from home.

In one downtown neighborhood categorized as high-risk, the streets were practically deserted Wednesday apart from a few delivery drivers on scooters and the occasional pedestrian and car.

All businesses were shut except for supermarkets and fruit and vegetable stores. Outsiders generally stay away from high-risk areas to avoid the possibility that their visit shows up on the tracing apps installed on virtually all cellphones, which could create problems for their future access to public areas.

While taking a lighter touch in Beijing, China has overall stuck to its strict zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19 that restricts travel, tests entire cities and sets up sprawling facilities to try to isolate every infected person. Lockdowns start with buildings and neighborhoods but become citywide if the virus spreads widely.

China’s health authorities reported two COVID deaths Saturday, the first since January 2021, as the country battles its worst outbreak in two years.

That has caused the most disruption in Shanghai, where authorities are slowly easing restrictions that have confined most of the city’s 26 million people to their apartments, housing compounds or immediate neighborhoods for close to a month, and in some cases longer.

Shanghai reported 4,982 more cases Wednesday, all but 260 of them asymptomatic, along with an additional 16 deaths. That continues a steady decline in China’s largest city, which recorded a daily peak of 27,605 new cases nearly three weeks ago on April 13.

The surprisingly low death toll amid an outbreak of more than 400,000 cases in the city that is home to China’s main stock market and biggest port has sparked questions about how such deaths are tallied.

The rigid and widely derided restrictions have led to shortages of food and medical aid along with a wider — though likely temporary — effect on the national economy. Desperate residents have confronted authorities at barricades and online, screamed out of their windows and banged pots and pans in a sign of their frustration and anger.

Communist authorities who tolerate no dissent have sought to scrub such protests from the internet and blamed the protests, including the banging of cooking implements, on agitation by unidentified “foreign anti-China forces.”

As part of its reopening, Shanghai this week began requiring health institutions to fully resume services wherever possible.

At downtown Huashan Hospital, patients filled the waiting area with lines forming outside some departments. While patient numbers are down by about two-thirds from before the most recent wave, their conditions tend to be more serious.

Huashan’s chief of dermatology, Wu Wenyu, said he was seeing patients who had delayed treatment because of the outbreak, some from cities outside Shanghai.

BA.4 and BA.5 appear to be more transmissible than the original Omicron variant and have a better shot at evading existing immunity, given a new surge in South Africa.

“For example, a patient suffering from shingles will hurt very much. He or she might have felt very bad at home, but he or she couldn’t go to the hospital due to COVID,” Wu said. “But now many patients are coming to see the doctor.”

Hospital administrators said the facility was staggering appointments to avoid crowding.

In some residential communities, a single family member was permitted to venture out twice a week to shop, sometimes also picking up items for neighbors.

Ling Jiazhao, manager of a supermarket in east Shanghai’s Pudong district, said the store was limiting customers to 50 at a time.

“I’m hoping it won’t cause congestion. Each community has two to four hours to go out for shopping, so most members will complete that within one hour,” Ling said.