- The biggest easing of curbs since the pandemic began
- Cities are urging citizens to remain vigilant
- Analysts say China is ill-prepared for a big spike in cases
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 8 (Reuters) – How many Chinese embraced new freedoms after the country on Thursday has dropped important parts of its strict zero-COVID regimeConcerns grew that a virus that had been largely contained could soon become wild.
Three years into the pandemic, many in China had been waiting for Beijing to align its stringent virus prevention measures with the rest of the world, which has largely opened up to living with the disease.
Those frustrations boiled over into widespread protests last month, the biggest public discontent since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
Without saying it was in response to those protests, some cities and regions began easing COVID controls, heralding a statewide relaxation of rules unveiled by the National Health Commission on Wednesday.
The NHC said infected people with mild symptoms can now be quarantined at home and it removes the need for mobile app health testing and screening for a variety of activities, including travel across the country.
Domestic ticket sales for tourists and leisure facilities have skyrocketed, according to the state press, while some people took to social media to reveal they had tested positive for the virus – something that had previously been heavily stigmatized in China.
Others expressed caution.
“I know COVID isn’t that ‘terrible’ now, but it’s still contagious and will hurt,” read a post on the Weibo platform. “The fear that is brought into our hearts cannot be easily dissipated.”
“Too many positives!” said another Weibo user.
Incidentally, some manufacturers and restaurants that want to remain open in China prefer to play it safe Maintaining COVID-19 curbs until they get a clearer picture of how jobs will be affected by the easing of strict measures.
The Zhengzhou Industrial Park, where Foxconn is located, was in a closed-loop system that isolated the plant from the outside world for 56 days.
China reported 21,439 new local COVID-19 infections on Dec. 7, down slightly from the previous day and below a peak of 40,052 cases on Oct. 27. Cases have been falling lately as authorities across the country dropped testing requirements.
Stocks from China and Hong Kong Boost in Asian equity markets on Thursday, as those still-cautious moves to reopen gave the world’s second-largest economy a chance to regain momentum. Casino operators in Macau (.CSICESG10) Partial led the rally and ended up 12.2%, taking its quarterly profit to 46.5%.
China’s yuan, which has also gained some ground against the dollar in recent weeks, was little changed on Thursday.
More broadly, the shift is becoming likely depressed economic growth over the next few months, as infections pick up and there’s no recovery until later in 2023, economists said.
That growth will continue to gain momentum with the implementation of easing measures, state media quoted CCTV Premier Li Keqiang as saying on Thursday.
China’s most populous city, Shanghai, which has been enduring one of the country’s longest and toughest lockdowns, on Thursday dropped the need for COVID tests to enter restaurants or entertainment venues.
There was no mention that China”zero-covidPolitics in recent announcements that raise suspicions that the term no longer exists.
Senior officials have also softened their tone on the dangers of the virus.
However, as the new, more relaxed controls rolled out, some cities urged residents to remain vigilant.
Some analysts and medical experts say China is ill-prepared for a large surge in infections, due in part to low vaccination rates among vulnerable people and its fragile healthcare system.
Amid reports of panic buying of fever drugs, financial news agency Yicai, citing third-party data, said the average daily sales volume of home-use testing kits has increased more than 400-fold since November.
“It (China) may have to pay for its procrastination to adopt a ‘living with COVID’ approach,” analysts at Nomura said in a note Thursday.
Infection rates in China are only around 0.13%, “far from the level required for herd immunity,” Nomura said.
Feng Zijian, a former official at the China Center for Disease Control, told China Youth Daily that up to 60% of China’s population could be infected in the first big wave before stabilization.
“Ultimately, about 80 to 90 percent of people will be infected,” he said.
The country is likely to face a large-scale outbreak in the next month or two, state-run China Newsweek magazine reported on Thursday, citing health experts.
China’s current tally of 5,235 COVID-related deaths is a tiny fraction of its population of 1.4 billion and extremely low by global standards. Some experts have warned that tolls could rise above 1.5 million when the exit is too hasty.
But despite the dangers, for many there is an acceptance that life must go on.
“It’s impossible to kill this virus completely, maybe you just live with it and hope it develops into flu,” said Yan, a 22-year-old unemployed Beijing resident who hoped further opening up of China’s economy would help him would help find a job.
Reporting by Ella Cao, Bernard Orr, Ryan Woo and Albee Zhang, as well as the Beijing Newsroom and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; writing by John Geddie and Greg Torode; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore, Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Policy.