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Life in Beijing amid the coronavirus: Police visits, temperature checks and working from home

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Patrick Casey shows examples of his Beijing street photography during his lecture at Tsinghua University. (Photo by Nico Gous)

Patrick Casey is a business news editor at China Global Television. He was a guest speaker in Professor Rick Dunham's Multimedia Reporting course in the fall semester.


The police came to our apartment in Beijing early this morning. But they weren't there to check my passport or sniff around like they usually do. This time they wore medical masks and talked earnestly to us through our door's large peephole. They were there to warn me as a foreigner about the dangers of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

My wife and I appreciated the gesture. However, the visit wasn't necessary. That's because there are warnings about the outbreak everywhere you go in Beijing. Step into your apartment building's elevator and you're smacked with the odor of the strong disinfectant that's applied twice a day.

Step out and walk to this compound's main entrance and you see two masked security guards measuring the temperature of every resident who enters. Delivery boys are not allowed in. Strangers are closely eyed.

Go outside the gate and you almost certainly will get your temperature checked again -- at the subway, most grocery stores and the few restaurants that remain open.

I don't take the subway anymore, though, because like countless Beijingers, I now work from home for the time being. I ride my bike or walk when it's necessary to go out for food and supplies -- usually every two or three days.

There's basically no place to go as it is. Beijing isn't sealed off, but in like most Chinese cities these days, all of the pubs, coffee houses, and shopping malls are shuttered. Beijing's gyms, movie theaters and outdoor ice skating ponds are closed indefinitely as well. So are most of its parks and many public spaces. That includes some of Beijing's biggest tourist spots such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Restaurants also are no longer permitted to host gatherings of more than three people. That means that wedding receptions and parties of all sorts have been indefinitely outlawed.

In addition, the city's universities and schools have not re-opened since they closed to celebrate the Chinese New Year on Jan. 25th.

Expats in Beijing of course are paying close attention to the heart-breaking events in Wuhan and other parts of China. But most of us aren't looking to jump on the next U.S.-bound flight even though there are almost none to jump on. We feel safe enough and are taking the proper precautions. We're also not thinking that the world is coming to an end like some western TV networks are implying.

Instead, we're busy at home. When we're not working or scrubbing down after a trip outside, we're reading, watching videos, playing computer games, exercising, dissecting the freshest rumors on WeChat and other social media, getting a head start on spring cleaning, watching over our families and parents, and much, much more.

We're also counting our First-World blessings and saying prayers for those who have died or are suffering in circumstances most people could never imagine. Our inconveniences are basically nothing compared to that.

The letter posted in enclaves of foreign residents across Beijing. (Photo by Patrick Casey)

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