Update from Beijing, where life is not quite returning to normal

In Beijing these days, it’s almost possible to believe China really has stamped out the coronavirus. There are traffic jams during rush hour, malls have extended their hours, and families congregate in parks. For the first time in six weeks, delivery people are allowed inside my square-kilometer residential neighborhood, and temperature checks are no longer necessary as long as the person has their residence permit.

But the virus, even if it isn’t physically present, is felt in other ways. Places can still be punished for violating maximum-capacity rules with mandatory (though temporary) closure. Many small businesses remain shuttered — some will be forever. Social distancing rules are in place at every factory and large office. A friend told me the story of a cop passing by a small group that he was in and asking if everyone was all together. “I don’t know these people,” one person, thinking on his feet, blurted. The officer didn’t believe it, of course, but the guy insisted on the lie, so what could he do?

At the park, “Do not congregate, do not play group sports, wear a mask, accept temperature checks, cooperate with park staff” is a message blared out by a loudspeaker on a loop. Whether people listen, well — that’s another story. The virus is under control, they’ve been told; who can blame them for wanting to act accordingly?

Previously in Update from Beijing:

In Beijing, social monitoring and control turns Kafkaesque