Halted Plans

Nicholas Quirke was shocked by the swift and sudden change in the atmosphere of Beijing on 16 June 2020. On Wednesday 10 June The Lotus Market, in Beijing, a collection of Hutongs, renowned for their historical location on the banks of Shichahai Lake, was buzzing with the cities inhabitants following the lifting of restrictions from central Government. Closed to all but the residents since January the bars, restaurants and business had lain dormant and useless. On the summer evening, as a beautiful sunset suffused the view with reds and golds it was hard to imagine the austere dereliction the virus had until now wrought. Live music seeped out of the doorways, the scents of a myriad cuisines filled the air and it felt like a positive new future was being heralded in. The shimmering shining dusk, bringing night with it, should have been seen as ominous portent as the next day it was announced a man in Beijing had been diagnosed with COVID19, the first in 57 days. On Friday it was discovered that the source of the virus was at the Xinfadi Market, iironically translating as ‘new found place’  and in less than a week the hopeful atmosphere had turned to resigned despair. Since then the numbers have been rapidly growing and the alert level of Beijing has returned to level 2. Beijingers would have to accept returning to the measures they had lived with until a month ago, with anti epidemic procedures in force. The Virus had been present in a case of imported salmon and passed around the market, its workers and its customers who were all quarantined and being tested but the effects of such a contagion were going to be far reaching. The neighbourhoods had returned to their barricades and it was not going to be possible to move freely around the streets again as they had for what was literally a week. The state owned train line, that was meant to be speeding Nicholas to Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou at the weekend, cancelled the trains and there would be no travel outside Beijing. He could travel if he needed, but then he would be quarantined once he reached a new City. He was going to have to accept that journeying round China was for now an aspiration he to forget about. He had cycled, in an oppressive 36 degrees temperature, 8 miles to Taikoo Li for some exercise, shopping and to have some tea but the quieter streets gave him a sense that atmosphere was now completely different. The mall was once again a relatively desolate spot and when he had got Peng’s coffee he went to a bookshop to sit and read and have tea. He had met Peng at a subway station to go and collect the car and he was surprised by the amount of people crowded onto the carriage which he managed to reveal in a photo to his sister who he was chatting with on WeChat. It was clearly going to take everyone a little time to take on board the new restrictions that were being imposed, now they had got so used to the freedom of movement. After nervously collecting the car from the Fengtai district, where the market the source of the outbreak stemmed from, they drove home in a glum mood and launched once again into the homecoming ritual he had come so familiar with during Beijing’s lockdown; shoes off, hand wash, phone cleaned, clothes off, laundry, shower. Tea was a Smoothie and they watched a gripping short film, ‘The Assistant’ which examined in an intriguing elliptical way, the background characters of the Harvey Weinstein story. They were up the next day at 4.30am and it was decided an early night would benefit them.

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