More businesses reopen in China, but many people stay home

A notice announces no entry to customers with out protective face masks at a pharmacy in Hong Kong on Monday.

BEIJING — More offices and stores in Beijing and other parts of China finally reopened Monday after the Lunar New Year break was extended to discourage travel and contain the new coronavirus, but many workers and shoppers appeared to stay home.

Public health authorities are watching closely to see whether the return to business worsens the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 42,000 people globally and killed over 1,000, with the vast majority of cases in China.

Even before the slow and cautious reopening, China on Monday reported a rise in new cases, dimming optimism that the near-quarantine of some 60 million people and other disease-control measures might be working.

Britain, meanwhile, declared the virus a “serious and imminent threat to public health” and said it would forcibly detain infected people if necessary. France tested scores of children and their parents after five British tourists contracted the virus at a ski resort.

The director-general of the World Health Organization said that the agency is still unable to predict where the outbreak is heading but that he believes there is still an opportunity to contain it. “In recent days, we have seen some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China, like the cases reported in France yesterday and the U.K. today,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The detection of the small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire, but for now, it’s only a spark.”

Meanwhile, Zhang Peng, who works for a livestreaming company in Beijing, went to the office for the first time since the holiday, which was supposed to end on Jan. 30. The company checked employees for fever and handed out masks. “I thought the situation is fairly good now,” Zhang said. “I went to work by subway today and underwent various checks in the station. And my company did a good job of prevention and control.”

Iris Ke, who works for an advertising company, said she plans to wait until next week to go back to the office.

“We just need to have a little more sense of self-protection,” said Ke. “Life goes on anyway. How come we stop going outside or stop working simply because of fear of disease?”

There were few signs of activity on the streets of Beijing. The capital’s broad avenues were largely free of traffic, and thousands of rental bikes stood in long ranks with hardly a customer. Tourist attractions such as the Forbidden City remained closed, as did schools, and many people worked from home.

Those shops and restaurants that did open found few customers. At the Sanyuanli market in Beijing, the stalls were stocked with pork, mutton, seafood and vegetables and shoppers wore face masks.

“The number of customers here is down a lot, maybe by more than half,” said Liu Ying, who sells walnuts, cashews and other specialties. “But you can see a lot of people calling in orders, so we’re slowly getting busy again.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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