Coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus: It's back to work for China, but life's not back to normal

Tough measures in place as Beijing takes no chances; schools, most eateries remain shut

As the extended Chinese New Year break came to an end, cautious Chinese workers went back to their offices and factories yesterday amid heightened checks at buildings and screenings at subway stations.

Life was hardly back to normal, as most shops, restaurants and cafes remained shut. Many companies took heed of the city authorities and ordered their employees to work from home. Schools also continued to be closed.

Beijing's usually heaving subway carriages were only half full, as were trains in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Anyone without a face mask was prevented from getting on.

While there were more cars on the roads than in the past two weeks, Beijing's notorious traffic jams were nowhere to be seen.

Thermal imaging systems were set up at some subway stations, and buses and trains were being disinfected regularly.

The capital, which has registered 336 cases of infection, is taking no chances, imposing harsh restrictions, including barring people from having gatherings or meals together. The authorities also directed companies to run temperature checks and make the wearing of masks compulsory at construction sites, while staggered meal times was encouraged.

The Beijing Justice Bureau said anyone who refused to wear a face mask in public venues such as hotels, restaurants, public transport stations and supermarkets, could be detained.

Beijing resident Wang Chen Qiang, 38, returned to work yesterday.

"The company disinfected the premises twice a day, and we had to wear a mask all day. I brought my own lunch to avoid crowded places. Everyone seemed calm and jovial," said the assistant to the general manager of a petroleum equipment firm.

Another Beijing resident Wang Xiaochun, 31, said all 100 employees in her building renovation company had been told to work from home until Feb 29.

"Because this epidemic is severe, I feel safer working from home. Although I am starting to feel bored and restless having been holed up at home for weeks, it is still better for everyone's safety," said Ms Wang, a purchasing manager.

Yesterday, President Xi Jinping, who has been directing operations for this "war" on the coronavirus from behind the scenes, stepped out in public for the first time in a face mask as he visited the Chaoyang district in Beijing to survey virus-control efforts.

The official Xinhua news agency said the President vowed to win the battle "with firmer confidence, stronger resolve and more decisive measures".

In southern China, many factories remained shut, unable to meet new regulations requiring them to supply their workers with at least three masks a day, as the entire country faced a mask shortage.

Experts say the outbreak could peak by the end of this month. Using a data model, researchers at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University predicted the number of infected could be reduced to nearly nothing in the next two weeks.

"The current model predicts a rapid decrease in new, confirmed cases in the next week, and virtually no new, confirmed cases by Feb 23," said Dr Yi Zou of the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences.

"While this appears to be a relatively rapid near-end to new, confirmed cases, we must keep in mind that factors could change the trend or that the data on current cases could be under-reported, which would change the prediction. However, the current model as of Feb 10 shows hope for the near future."

A team of World Health Orga-nisation experts arrived in Beijing yesterday, while medical workers continued to stream into the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic. Nearly 6,000 personnel from dozens of provinces arrived in the central Chinese city on 41 flights on Sunday, the largest number of medics to arrive in a single day.

Since Jan 24, more than 17,000 medical workers have descended on Wuhan to help battle the coronavirus outbreak.