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China’s capital swings from zero-COVID anger to infection management

China's capital swings from zero-COVID anger to infection management
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BEIJING, Dec. 11 (Reuters) – Beijing’s COVID-19 gloom deepened on Sunday, as many shops and other businesses shut down, and an expert warned of many thousands of new coronavirus cases as anger over China’s past COVID-19 policies stoked concerns gave way to dealing with infections .

China on Wednesday dropped most of its strict COVID curbs following unprecedented events protests against them last month, but cities already grappling with their worst outbreaks, like Beijing, saw a sharp drop in economic activity after rules like regular testing were scrapped.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many businesses have been forced to close as infected workers are being quarantined at home, while many other people are choosing not to go out due to the higher risk of infection.

Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, told state media that the omicron strain of the virus, which is prevalent in China, is highly transmissible and an infected person can transmit it to up to 18 others.

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

With regular COVID testing from Beijing residents being scrapped and reserved only for groups like health workers, official numbers for new cases have fallen.

Health officials on Saturday reported 1,661 new infections for Beijing, down 42% from 3,974 on June 4, a day before national policies were eased dramatically.

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

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

“We realize there’s no avoiding this – everyone just has to work from home,” she said.

‘HIGHER RISK’

Sunday is a normal business day for shops in Beijing and it’s usually busy, especially in places like the historic Shichahai district, which is full of boutique shops and cafes.

But few people were out on Sunday and shopping malls in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populated district, were virtually deserted, with many salons, restaurants and retailers closed.

Economists generally believe that China’s path to economic health will be bumpy as shocks such as labor crises due to workers’ sick leave delay a full recovery for some time.

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

According to Capital Economics, China’s economy could grow 1.6% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023 and 4.9% in the second.

Epidemiologist Zhong also said it would take several months to return to normal.

“In my opinion it’s in the first half of next year, after March,” he said.

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

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

But there are even indications that this rule could change.

Staff at the main international airport in the city of Chengdu, when asked whether the quarantine rules would be relaxed, said that starting Saturday, whether or not to conduct the three-day home quarantine would depend on a person’s neighborhood authorities.

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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