BEIJING (Reuters) – Beijing closed parks, malls and museums on Tuesday as more Chinese cities resumed mass testing for COVID-19 as authorities grappled with a rise in cases that deepened anxiety about the economy and dampened hopes of a speedy reopening. .
China reported 28,127 new locally transmitted infections on Monday, close to its daily peak since April, with infections in the southern city of Guangzhou and the southwestern municipality of Chongqing making up about half of the total.
In Beijing, cases are reaching new highs every day, prompting the city government for more residents to stay put and show evidence of a negative COVID test, no more than 48 hours old, to enter public buildings.
The wave of infections is testing China’s recent adjustments to its COVID-free policy, which aims to make authorities more targeted in crackdowns and steer them away from the blanket lockdowns and testing that have stifled the economy and demoralized the population after nearly three years into the pandemic. .
“Some of our friends have gone bankrupt and some have lost their jobs,” said a 50-year-old retiree from Beijing who surnamed Zhou.
“We can’t do as many activities as we intended to do, and it’s impossible to travel. So we really hope the pandemic ends as soon as possible,” she said.
Health authorities attributed two additional deaths to COVID-19, after three deaths over the weekend, the first in China since May.
Shanghai on Tuesday ordered the closure of cultural and entertainment venues in seven of its 16 provinces after 48 new local infections were reported, while the city of Tianjin, near Beijing, became the latest to order citywide testing.
Even after the amended guidelines, China remains out of the world with its stringent coronavirus restrictions, including borders that remain completely closed.
Tightening measures in Beijing and elsewhere, even as China tries to avoid citywide lockdowns like the one that crippled Shanghai this year, has renewed investor concerns about the world’s second-biggest economy, weighing on stocks and prompting analysts to cut their forecasts for the Chinese year. Ending the demand for oil.
Brokerage firm Nomura said its internal index estimated that localities accounting for about 19.9% of China’s gross domestic product were under some form of lockdown or restrictions, up from 15.6% last Monday and not far from the index’s peak in April, during Shanghai’s lockdown. .
The government argues that President Xi Jinping’s signature of the coronavirus non-spread policy saves lives and is necessary to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
But many frustrated social media users have drawn the comparison to masked fans at soccer’s World Cup, which kicked off on Sunday in Qatar.
“Tens of thousands in Qatar are not wearing masks. We are still panicking,” one user wrote on Weibo.
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On Monday, the capital warned that it was facing the most severe test of the pandemic and tightened entry rules, requiring arrivals from elsewhere in China to undergo a three-day COVID test before they are allowed to leave their accommodation.
Many Beijing residents have seen their buildings locked down, though these restrictions often only last a few days.
Some residents said grocery shipments have been slow due to high volumes while many museums have closed, and places like Happy Valley amusement park and Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and hikers, said they would close.
Beijing reported 1,438 new domestic cases on Monday, up from 962 on Sunday, as well as another 634 cases in the first 15 hours of Tuesday.
The municipality said Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who led the policy of not spreading the coronavirus, visited Chongqing on Monday and urged authorities to adhere to the plan and control the outbreak.
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China’s economy is facing one of the slowest growth rates in decades: a massive real estate bubble has burst, youth unemployment recently reached record levels, the private sector has been crippled by the lack of COVID and a series of crackdowns on industries it says has seen “barbaric expansion.”
Investors had hoped that China’s more targeted implementation of zero COVID restrictions might herald greater easing, but many analysts caution against being too optimistic.
Experts warn that a full reopening would require a major effort to boost vaccination and a change in messaging in a country where the disease remains widely feared. Authorities say they plan to build more hospitals and fever clinics to screen patients, and are formulating a vaccination campaign.
Many companies, especially customer-facing ones, also fear that it may not last until next year as customers continue to hang on to their cash.
“The real picture may not be as rosy as it seems,” Nomura analysts wrote, saying they only expect any reopening to accelerate after March next year, when the reshuffle of China’s top leadership is complete.
“Reopening can go back and forth as policymakers may back off after noticing rapid increases in cases and social unrest. As such, local officials may be more reluctant to be first movers when trying to discover Beijing’s true intentions,” Nomura wrote. .
reporting by newsrooms in Beijing and Shanghai; Written by Brenda Goh. Editing by Tony Monroe, Meral Fahmy, Jerry Doyle and Raisa Kasuluski
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