Beijing turning into a ghost town

BEIJING: With a bright sky and a warm sun shining, it would seem the kind of day when the residents here come out in force to enjoy spring, but yesterday SARS had turned the city into a ghost town. 

The portrait of Mao Zedong at the entrance of the Forbidden City was staring at the scattered clusters of people visiting the usually crowded Tiananmen Square. 

At the Wangfujing shopping district, a bus taking tourists on short trips to major sites in the neighbourhood was sitting idly at the side of the road, as a tour guide used a megaphone to entice non-existing crowds. 

“We'll drive even if we get just one or two passengers,” said a tour guide. “But we haven't had a single one so far.” 

Cinemas, internet cafes and karaoke bars have been closed down, and will not reopen until officials feel they have the epidemic under control. 

Public libraries have also been closed for the time being, and marriage registrations have been halted to prevent large-scale wedding gatherings. 

Thousands find themselves with little or no work, and for many it could be more than a temporary problem. 

At the Oriental Plaza, one of the city's largest malls, visitors could be counted on one hand. Hygiene had now become the top priority, according to the manager of a tea shop inside the mall. – AFP  

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