China’s capital shifts from anger over zero-COVID to dealing with infections

China's capital shifts from anger over zero-COVID to dealing with infections
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BEIJING, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Gloom over COVID-19 in Beijing deepened on Sunday with many shops and other businesses shuttered, and an expert warned of many thousands of new coronavirus cases, as anger over the China’s previous policies on COVID gave way to concerns about dealing with the infection. .

China lifted most of its strict COVID restrictions on Wednesday after an unprecedented protests against them last month, but cities already struggling with their most severe outbreaks, such as Beijing, saw a sharp decline in economic activity after rules like regular testing were scrapped.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many businesses have been forced to close as infected workers quarantine at home, while many other people choose not to go out due to the increased risk of infection.

Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, told state media that the Omicron strain of the virus prevalent in China is highly transmissible and one infected person can pass it on to 18 other people.

“We can see that hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people are infected in various major cities,” Zhong said.

With regular COVID testing of Beijing residents scrapped and reserved only for groups like healthcare workers, official counts of new cases have plummeted.

Health authorities reported 1,661 new infections in Beijing on Saturday, down 42% from 3,974 on December 1. 6, a day before the national policies were drastically relaxed.

But the evidence suggests there are many more cases in the city of nearly 22 million people where everyone seems to know someone who has contracted COVID.

“At my company, the number of people who are COVID negative is close to zero,” said a woman who works for a tourism and events company in Beijing who asked to be identified only as Nancy.

“We realize that this cannot be avoided: everyone will have to work from home,” he said.


Sunday is a normal business day for shops in Beijing and is often very crowded, especially in places like the historic Shichahai neighborhood lined with boutiques and cafes.

But some people were out and about on Sunday and shopping malls in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous district, were virtually deserted with many salons, restaurants and shops shuttered.

Economists widely expect China’s path to economic health to be bumpy, as shocks like the jobs crisis due to workers calling in sick delay a full recovery for some time yet.

“The zero-COVID transition will eventually allow consumer spending patterns to return to normal, but increased risk of infection will keep in-person spending depressed for months after reopening,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.

China’s economy may grow 1.6% in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the previous year, and 4.9% in the second, according to Capital Economics.

Epidemiologist Zhong also said it would take a few months before things went back to normal.

“My opinion is in the first half of next year, after March,” he said.

While China has lifted most of its domestic COVID restrictions, its international borders are still largely closed to foreigners, including tourists.

Incoming travelers are subject to five days of quarantine at centralized government facilities and an additional three days of self-monitoring at home.

But there are even signs that that rule could change.

When staff at Chengdu city’s main international airport were being asked if quarantine rules were being relaxed, they said starting Saturday whether or not one needed to do the three days of home quarantine would depend on each person’s neighborhood authorities. .

(This story has been resubmitted to correct the spelling of ‘woman’ in paragraph 9)

Reporting by Ryan Woo, Albee Zhang, Josh Arslan, Liz Lee, and Judy Hua; Edited by Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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