As cities in China, where the first Covid-19 cases were reported, slowly reopen, we’re getting a glimpse of what life might look like after the pandemic.
Every time David Lin, a freelance videographer in Beijing, steps out of his apartment building, a security guard takes his temperature when he returns.
Precautions like these can be found all over the Chinese capital, which is humming back to life after a months-long lockdown because of the coronavirus.
As the number of new Covid-19 cases continues to fall in China, the country is slowly lifting restrictions on movement. On Friday, Beijing’s Forbidden City reopened to visitors after it was closed for three months.
Although businesses are reopening, it’s clear that the pandemic has changed daily life.
Shoppers breeze past thermal imaging cameras, set up at mall entrances to check their temperature. Restaurants will only serve groups of up to four people. Masks are still everywhere. Even the Forbidden City, though reopened, is restricting the number of visitors to 5,000 a day, instead of the usual 80,000.
At restaurants, tables are kept three feet apart, reflecting a World Health Organization recommendation that people maintain at least one meter of distance to prevent the spread of the virus.
The limitations have posed problems for business owners like Gao Fan, who runs a barbecue restaurant in Beijing.
“Barbecue is a very social activity,” he says. “People usually come here after work for some skewers and a few drinks. But now, because we have to limit the number of people who dine in, it’s not ideal for us.”
His restaurant was closed for over a month and a half after Beijing imposed a lockdown in early February. Gao estimates he lost $30,000 during that period.
After he reopened in mid-March following a loosening of restrictions, some of his employees chose not to return.
Many of them had ventured outside of Beijing to visit family during Chinese New Year at the end of January. When the coronavirus hit, cities imposed mandatory two-week quarantines for people traveling from outside.
“All employees who return to Beijing from other places have to go through mandatory quarantine,” Gao says. “This basically means two weeks of lost income for them. As a result, some were reluctant to come back to Beijing, and we lost half of our staff.”
For now, Gao is running his restaurant on a skeleton crew, but there is one silver lining: his delivery service is still thriving.
“The virus forced us to shift to online orders and takeout,” he says.
It’s a change that might become permanent even after the pandemic subsides.