Heaven Supermarket: the Beijing bar at the heart of the Covid outbreak | China

Heaven Supermarket’s ability to attract young Chinese customers and foreigners has always been the envy of its competitors in the Chinese capital.

Located in one of Beijing’s busiest nightlife districts, the bar is modeled after a large self-service liquor store with chairs, sofas, and tables. It’s not the fanciest in its presentation, but on Chinese review sites, customers highlight its affordability and down-to-earth nature.

Bono Lee, a Hong Kong cultural critic who lived in the area between 2008 and 2012, once wrote about Heaven Supermarket: “You could meet people from all over the world – African, Japanese, European and Russian. They will not speak to you in English but in Mandarin. The stories they tell may also contradict your idea of ​​the West. I made a lot of friends there.”

But in the past fortnight the bar has repeatedly made headlines for other reasons: it has been accused of causing the recent Covid outbreak in Beijing. Authorities said at least 287 cases have been traced back to the bar and thousands have been quarantined as their “close contacts”. Those affected live or work in 14 of the capital’s 16 districts.

Drinking and eating in most of Beijing’s restaurants only resumed on June 6 after being closed for more than a month. During that time, the city’s 22 million residents were asked to work from home. Shopping centers have been closed and parts of the extensive transport system have been suspended.

The outbreak of the Heaven supermarket dealt a serious blow to the authorities’ work to combat the epidemic. So much so that Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan paid a visit on Monday and told her officials there was “need to strengthen Covid prevention and control at key points”. Local media warned that if complacency mounts, “the consequences could be severe and would be such that no one would want to see.”

Less than 24 hours later, Beijing officials filed a criminal case against the bar’s owner for allegedly “obstructing the prevention of infectious diseases.” Their license was revoked, while authorities also accused the bar owner of “seriously breaking the law and committing dishonest acts”. His public WeChat account has been deactivated.

Many frugal young Chinese have expressed their dismay. Reading the news, a regular customer urged authorities not to close it. “Otherwise I won’t find a cheaper place than this in the future,” he wrote on Weibo this week.

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The Heaven supermarket saga is revealing, says David Carey, who owns a small 40-square-meter bar in eastern Beijing. “For those of us in the entertainment and beverage industries, the future is a lot more uncertain than we thought.”

Carey’s bar had reopened for just three days this month before news of the Heaven supermarket outbreak broke. Now it’s only allowed to open during the day and he’s not allowed to serve alcohol. “We had signs that, despite everything, things were getting back to normal [the zero Covid policy]but now it looks like normality is a long way off.”

With the support of Xiaoqian Zhu