Cityscapes transformed by Covid test booths


Just life as usual: A person getting a swab at a nucleic acid testing station, set up city-wide to trace Covid-19 outbreaks in Beijing. — Reuters

BEIJING: A thousand days since the World Health Organisation (WHO) was told of a “viral pneumonia” in central China, many countries have returned to pre-Covid-19 life. Not so China itself – in cities big or small, routine PCR testing is the new normal.

On Dec 31, 2019, the WHO’s office in China was informed of cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province. Since then, the virus that is now known as SARS-CoV-2 has evolved into the less virulent Omicron variant, and most of the world has moved on.

After Shanghai was locked down in April and May to contain the highly transmissible Omicron strain, regular testing for the virus has become a fact of everyday life to ensure fast detection and quarantine of the infected and close contacts.

Tens of thousands of kerbside sampling booths where people can be tested day and night have become a permanent feature of Chinese cityscapes.

Proof of a negative PCR test once every few days is required to guarantee access to public venues, places of work and mass transit.

Testing booths, typically container-like structures erected in the middle of a pavement, are staffed by health workers in hazmat suits ready to take throat swabs. Some booths operate 24 hours a day.

As of the end of May, about 15,000 booths had been set up in Shanghai, according to local media. Beijing had about 10,000, while Shenzhen had more than 7,000. — Reuters

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