Covid spreads fears grow as China lifts zero-tolerance restrictions

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: As many Chinese embraced new freedoms on Thursday after the country abandoned key parts of its strict zero Covid regime, fears grew that a virus that had been largely contained could be unleashed soon.
Three years into the pandemic, many in China were eager for Beijing to start aligning its rigid virus prevention measures with the rest of the world, which has opened wide in an effort to live with the disease.
Those frustrations boiled over into widespread protests last month, the biggest display of public discontent since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
Without saying it was a response to those protests, some cities and regions began to loosen COVID controls, in moves that heralded a nationwide 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 has removed the need for testing and health checks on mobile apps for a variety of activities. , including travel across the country.
Domestic ticket sales for tourist and leisure sites soared, according to state media, while some people took to social media to reveal they had tested positive for the virus – something which had previously been heavily stigmatized in China.
Others expressed caution.
“I know COVID isn’t so ‘awful’ now, but it’s still contagious and will hurt,” said a post on the Weibo platform. “The fear brought to our hearts cannot be easily dispelled.”
“Too many positives!” said another Weibo user.
Some manufacturers and restaurants keen to stay open in China prefer to err on the side of caution, keeping COVID-19 restrictions until they get a clearer picture of how workplaces will be affected by the easing. strict measures.
However, Apple supplier Foxconn’s COVID-hit Zhengzhou factory in China lifted its “closed-loop” management restrictions on Thursday, it said in a statement posted on its website. WeChat Account.
The Zhengzhou Industrial Park where Foxconn is located was subjected to a closed-loop system that isolated the factory from the rest of the 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 Nov. 27. Cases have recently dropped as authorities in the country dropped testing requirements.
Shares in China and Hong Kong rallied Asian stock markets on Thursday as these still-cautious steps toward reopening were seen as giving the world’s second-largest economy a chance to regain momentum. Macau casino operators partly led the rally, ending up 12.2%, sending their quarterly gain to 46.5%.
The Chinese yuan, which has also regained ground against the dollar in recent weeks, was little changed on Thursday.
More broadly, the change will likely reduce economic growth over the coming months as infections rise, leading to a rebound only later in 2023, economists said.
This growth will continue to accelerate with the implementation of easing measures, state media CCTV said Thursday, citing Premier Li Keqiang.
China’s most populous city, Shanghai, which has suffered one of the country’s longest and toughest lockdowns, on Thursday dropped the need for Covid tests to enter restaurants or entertainment venues.
There has been no mention of China’s “zero-Covid” policy in recent announcements, raising suspicions that the term is dying out.
Senior officials have also softened their tone on the dangers posed by the virus.
But, while embracing the new, more relaxed controls, some cities have urged residents to remain vigilant.
Some analysts and medical experts say China is ill-prepared for a sharp rise in infections, in part because of low vaccination rates among vulnerable people and its fragile health system.
Amid reports of fever medicine panic buying, financial media outlet Yicai, citing third-party data, said the average daily sales volume of home test kits had increased more than 400 times. since November.
“It (China) may have to pay for its procrastination in adopting a ‘living with COVID’ approach,” Nomura analysts said in a note Thursday.
Infection rates in China are only around 0.13%, “far from the level needed for herd immunity,” Nomura said.
Feng Zijian, a former official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control, told China Youth Daily that up to 60% of China’s population could be infected in the first large-scale wave before it stabilizes.
“Ultimately, around 80-90% of people will be infected,” he said.
The country is likely to face a large-scale outbreak in the next one to two months, state-run magazine China Newsweek reported 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 the toll could exceed 1.5 million if the exit is too rushed.
But, even with the dangers, for many there is an acceptance that life must go on.
“It’s impossible to completely kill this virus, maybe just live with it and hope it evolves into the flu,” said Yana 22-year-old unemployed man from Beijing who said he hoped a more open Chinese economy would help him find a job.


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