Mothers hosting playdates near cordoned-off parks, mahjong maestros huddled in streets and youngsters slugging night-time beers on barricaded sidewalks — Beijingers are making the most of the small spaces available as China’s coronavirus controls close in.

Meanwhile in Shanghai, a growing number of residents are being allowed to briefly venture outside as the city gradually eases out of an extended lockdown, celebrating their first hours outside in weeks with champagne and roadside picnics.

China is hitched to a zero-Covid policy which triggers mass lockdowns, routine tests and movement restrictions whenever infection clusters emerge — 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 horror as Shanghai entered a slow-motion lockdown in April, with millions still under stay-at-home orders.

The capital has recorded just dozens of cases each day but has also gone quiet since May with schools closed and everyone — other than doctors and a few essential workers — told to work from home.

Now the city is watching and waiting to see which way the virus trends.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been restricted to their homes, still well short of a full lockdown but enough to leave only the brave and the rebellious out on the streets of a pandemic-weary city.

“Everything is closed! Cinemas, 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.”

  • Cat-and-mouse –

Those, like Ma, who venture out face a cat-and-mouse game with police and city authorities enforcing strict virus rules and sealing off access to riverbanks and other gathering spots.

A large blue sign near the river captured the authorities’ approach: “Be patient to enjoy the sunshine when the pandemic ends.”

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