‘Please protect yourself’: China battles Covid surge

BEIJING: People lined up outside fever clinics in Chinese hospitals on Monday to check if they had Covid-19, a new sign of the rapid spread of symptoms after authorities began dismantling strict measures against the disease .
Three years into the pandemic, China is making slow progress to align with a world that has largely opened up to living with Covid, making a major policy shift last Wednesday after unprecedented protests against its stifling curbs.
It ditched testing ahead of many activities, limited quarantine and prepared on Monday to disable a mobile app used to track the travel histories of a population of 1.4 billion people.
But with little exposure to a disease that is largely under control so far, China is ill-prepared, analysts say, for a wave of infections that could strain its fragile health system and bring businesses to a halt.
“I’m really afraid of getting infected, because the number of infected people is gradually increasing in Beijing,” an 18-year-old student surnamed Tan told Reuters as he walked down a street in the upscale Chaoyang district.
“But I have to go out and do some shopping today,” he added. “I delayed going out for three weeks because of Covid.”
Elsewhere in the district, home to foreign embassies and corporate headquarters, around 80 people huddled in the cold outside a fever clinic as ambulances drove by.
Reuters witnessed similar queues outside clinics in the central city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 first emerged three years ago.
The number of patients waiting to be admitted to emergency and fever clinics was increasing, a doctor who works in a respiratory ward at a Beijing hospital said on Sunday, quoted by the state-backed Global Times newspaper. .
In recent weeks, local cases have trended downward since peaking at 40,052 in late November, official figures show, however. Sunday’s tally of 8,626 was down from 10,597 new cases the day before.
But the figures reflect falling testing requirements, analysts said, while Chinese health expectations warned of an impending increase.
In comments Monday in the state-backed newspaper Shanghai Securities NewsZhang Wenhong, head of a mall expert team, said the current outbreak could peak in a month, although the end of the pandemic could take three to six months.
Signs that the virus was rampaging through communities were widespread in cities like Beijing and Wuhan.
“Please protect yourself,” the management of a condominium in the capital’s Dongcheng district urged residents on Sunday, adding that almost all of its staff had been infected.
“Try as much as you can not to go out…” he said on the WeChat messaging app. “Be the first person to take responsibility for your own health, let’s face this together.”
The spread of these fears has prompted some people to avoid crowded places or indoor dining.
That’s why few analysts expect a quick and broad-based rebound in spending in the world’s second-largest economy, as the cheer that greeted the abrupt easing is tempered by uncertainty for consumers and businesses.
Still, China is pushing ahead with its efforts to free up domestic travel, though overseas travel may still take some time.
A state-mandated mobile app identifying travelers in Covid-hit areas will shut down at midnight on Monday, according to a notice on its official WeChat account.
The number of domestic flights available across China has topped 7,400, nearly double from a week ago, the flight tracking app shows. VariFlight show.


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