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AP Photos: Beijing eerily quiet after Lunar New Year break

February 11, 2020 GMT
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A man wearing a mask stands near a pile of bicycles from bike-sharing companies parked outside a subway station in Beijing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. China reported a rise in new virus cases on Monday, possibly denting optimism that its disease control measures like isolating major cities might be working, while Japan reported dozens of new cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
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A man wearing a mask stands near a pile of bicycles from bike-sharing companies parked outside a subway station in Beijing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. China reported a rise in new virus cases on Monday, possibly denting optimism that its disease control measures like isolating major cities might be working, while Japan reported dozens of new cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING (AP) — Officially, much of China got back to work on Monday after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, but there were few signs of activity in Beijing.

Schools remained closed and many people worked from home, hoping to avoid crowds and the risk of catching the new virus that has sickened tens of thousands of people.

Panic buying has been reported, with items such as rice, bottled water, dry noodles and cleaning products the most sought after. Fresh meat, fruit and vegetables remained widely available, reflecting the government’s demand that suppliers be exempted from rigid travel restrictions.

Beijing’s broad avenues were largely free of traffic and thousands of rental bikes stood in long ranks with hardly a customer. Tourist draws such as the Forbidden City have been closed as a disease-containment measure.

The scene recalled the spring of 2003, when the SARS virus outbreak confined millions to their homes. As then, many now are relying on delivery companies to bring them food and household items, deposited at the gates of their housing compounds or in specially made lockers to reduce human contact.

Those shops and restaurants that did open found few customers.

Authorities hope warmer temperatures and falling infection rates will relieve the anxiety, but there is little doubt that it will be weeks if not longer before life returns to normal. In the meanwhile, the outbreak is expected to deliver a body blow to the Chinese economy, which was already suffering the impact of declining domestic demand and the ongoing trade war with the United States.