AP Photos: Beijing slowly reopens amid falling virus cases

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing’s city zoo and parts of the Great Wall of China have reopened to visitors who book in advance, as the Chinese capital slowly returns to normal amid a sharp fall in the number of new coronavirus cases.

While many of the city’s world-famous tourist sites, including the sprawling Forbidden City ancient palace complex, remain closed, spring weather and budding cherry blossoms are coaxing citizens outdoors after they have been largely confined to their homes for the last two months.

Authorities are limiting access to avoid crowds that might lead to further cross-infections, although they say restrictions will be loosened as long as the virus remains at bay.

Travel in and out of the city of more than 20 million remains tightly controlled, including mandatory two-week quarantines to everyone arriving from abroad and those who have been in foreign countries in the last 14 days. However, public transport continues to operate and many offices have reopened, albeit with strict temperature checks and registration requirements that appear to have contributed to the containment of the outbreak that has sickened more than 81,000 people and killed over 3,200 in the country.

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Travel and tourism are major employers in Beijing, and like all service industries, have been hard-hit by the outbreak and accompanying closure orders. Schools, including famed institutions such as Peking University, remain closed, and authorities say it may be weeks or longer before students can return to classrooms.

The Chinese government says work has restarted on about 90% of major public construction projects across the country, excluding Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in December. While many migrant workers remain trapped by travel bans, industrial production has also returned to action, including in the crucial auto manufacturing industry, which is largely based in Wuhan, and in businesses that provide critical links in global supply chains.

Despite the hardship, the outbreak has had at least one upside for Beijing: The slowdown in industrial activity has banished the city’s notorious pollution, leaving cobalt skies that reveal the surrounding dramatic mountain landscapes.

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