- Beijing abandons key tools of ‘zero-COVID’ regime
- Changes follow historic protests last month
- The opening raises fears of spread of infections
SHANGHAI/HONG KONG, Dec 13 (Reuters) – Chinese leaders reportedly delayed a key meeting on economic policy amid growing signs that COVID-19 infections are rising nearly a week after Beijing lifted some of the toughest restrictions. hard in the world
President Xi Jinping and other members of the Politburo and senior government figures had been expected to attend the Central Economic Work Conference behind closed doors, most likely this week, to chart a policy course for China’s embattled economy in 2023.
A Bloomberg News report Tuesday night, citing people familiar with the matter, said the meeting had been pushed back and there was no timeline for rescheduling.
The delay comes as authorities continue to roll back the previously resolved “zero-COVID” policy advocated by Xi.
long queues appear outside fever clinics in a worrying sign that a wave of infections is building, even though official counts of new cases have fallen in recent weeks as authorities scale back testing.
And companies in China, from e-commerce giant JD.com to cosmetics brand Sephora, are rush to minimize the impact of rising infections: handing out test kits, encouraging more working from home, and in some cases buying truckloads of medicines.
The signs come as China tries to quickly align with a world that has largely reopened, following unprecedented protests last month in China three years into the pandemic.
The protests were the strongest display of public defiance during the decade of Xi’s presidency and come amid growth figures for China’s $17 trillion economy that were some of the worst in 50 years.
Despite the surge in infections, people in China applauded the removal on Tuesday of a state-mandated app used to track whether they had traveled to COVID-hit areas.
When authorities disabled the “route code” app at midnight Monday, China’s four telecommunications companies said they would delete user data associated with the app.
“Goodbye itinerary code, hope I never see you again,” read a post on the Weibo social media platform, where people applauded the demise of an app critics feared could be used for mass surveillance.
“The hand that was extended to wield power during the epidemic should now be withdrawn,” another user wrote.
And in another sign of policy easing, Chinese healthcare company 111.inc has started selling Pfizer’s Paxlovid for the treatment of COVID-19 in China through its app, a drug that was previously only available in some hospitals.
It sold out just over half an hour after the listing was reported by local media, according to the platform’s customer service.
Despite relief over last week’s decision to start rolling back the government’s zero-COVID policy, there are fears that China will now pay a price.
Infections are expected to spike further during the Chinese New Year holidays next month, when people travel across the country to be with their families, a risk to a population of 1.4 billion who lack “herd immunity” and have relatively low vaccination rates among the elderly. according to some analysts.
Moves made last week to relax COVID restrictions included removing mandatory testing before many public activities and reining in quarantine.
HONG KONG RELAX
Beijing’s envoy to the United States said on Monday that he believes China’s anti-COVID-19 measures will be further relaxed in the near future and international travel to the country will be reduced. it also becomes easier.
China has all but closed its borders to international travel since the pandemic first broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. International flights are still at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels and arrivals are down. face eight days of quarantine.
Hong Kong’s financial hub, which already has less stringent border controls than mainland China, said on Tuesday it would remove a requirement for incoming travelers to avoid bars and restaurants. within three days of arrival.
Hongkong too throw away your mobility tracking app governing access to restaurants and places like gyms, clubs and lounges, Chief Executive John Lee said.
While the lifting of controls is seen as improving long-term global growth prospects, analysts say Chinese companies will struggle in the coming weeks as a wave of infections creates staff shortages and makes consumers wary.
Analysts say the decline in reported new cases could reflect falling testing requirements rather than the actual situation on the ground.
“The rapid increase in infections in large cities could be just the beginning of a massive wave of COVID infections,” said Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura.
“We believe that incoming immigration around the Chinese New Year holidays in late January could lead to unprecedented spread of COVID.”
Experts say China’s fragile health system could quickly get overwhelmed if those fears come true.
In Beijing, empty seats on commuter trains and deserted restaurants highlight the caution of some people.
“Perhaps other people are afraid or worried about the health of children and grandparents. It is a personal choice,” Gao Lin, a 33-year-old financier, told Reuters.
chinese stocks (.CSI300) It dipped on Tuesday as a recent rally sparked by reopening hopes gave way to concerns about the spread of infections. The yuan currency was little changed but is already heading for its worst year since 1994, when China unified official and market exchange rates.
Reporting by Bernard Orr in Beijing, Brenda Goh and Shen Yiming in Shanghai, and Farah Master in Hong Kong; Written by John Geddie and Greg Torode; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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