Mothers are hosting game dates near fenced parks, mahjong maestroes are gathering on the streets, and youths are slinging beer at night on barricaded sidewalks – Beijingers are making the most of the small space available as China is closer to coronavirus control.
In Shanghai, meanwhile, a growing number of residents are being allowed out briefly as the city slowly emerges from the extended lockdown, celebrating their first hours of the week with champagne and street side picnics.
China is committed to a zero-covid policy that triggers mass lockdowns, routine testing and movement restrictions whenever an infection cluster emerges – the last major economy to do so in a world now living with the coronavirus.
Beijing, a city of 22 million people, looked on in panic as Shanghai entered a slow lockdown in April, with millions still under house arrest.
The capital has recorded only a few dozen cases a day, but the school has been closed since May and everyone – except doctors and some necessary staff – has been asked to work from home.
Now the city is watching and waiting to see where the virus trend is heading.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been confined to their homes, still very few of the complete lockdown but enough to leave only the brave and rebels on the epidemic-weary city streets.
“Everything is off! Movies, museums … football pitches,” said Eric Ma, a programmer, sharing a few beers with friends around the Liangma River in downtown Beijing.
“It feels claustrophobic. We have to find creative ways to have fun.”
Like Ma, who faces a cat-and-mouse game by enforcing strict virus rules with police and city authorities and blocking access to riverbanks and other gathering spots.
A large blue sign near the river holds the authorities’ view: “Be patient to enjoy the sun when the epidemic is over.”
Still, dozens of people were seen jumping over barricades or manipulating through police tape to dive on a warm Monday afternoon.
A middle-aged man stands in the water and sings the famous Peking Opera Aria song.
Some have brought folding chairs, tables and a small gas stove for cooking outside.
Since the restaurants have closed, only takeouts are allowed and many housing blocks are not allowing visitors, people have started picnicking on the sidewalk.
“The guards come from time to time and chase us away,” said Rainer Zhang, a fashion designer who spread her picnic mat on a street corner near the Liangma River.
“But we don’t care. People are frustrated with pay cuts and cuts and we have to meet and get out,” he said.
Parents are sitting on the river bank eating watermelon, and children are paddling along the shallow banks of the river.
“We bring the kids here for some exercise,” New Honglin said, pointing to her seven-year-old son floating in the river with his float.
“Because the park is closed, there is no place to play, but children get angry when they are stuck at home all day to study online.”
Brief relief in Shanghai
Old neighborhoods in central Beijing, usually filled with hawkers, tourists and rickshaw pullers, have also been closed.
But a couple posed for a wedding photo in front of the old Drum Tower on Monday, when retirees gathered on a nearby street to play mahjong, violating strict social distance rules.
“We come here every day after lunch, and play until sunset,” said a retired municipal worker, who only gave his last name, Jao.
“We’ve been doing this for years and the epidemic can’t stop us.”
In Shanghai, residents are slowly coming out of the other side of a lockdown during which millions were barred from leaving their homes.
The mood was festive in the central Jingyan district outside an apartment compound on Wednesday where residents were finally allowed to set foot inside the house for 55 days – just for two hours – outside.
A group of friends wearing four masks toasted their brief freedom with champagne, while a group of older women set aside their best Sunday day for a long-awaited walk around.
A barber in protective gear cut customers’ hair at a makeshift roadside saloon as most of the city’s hairdressers were off.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)