- Three deaths over the weekend in Beijing, the first since May
- Guangzhou has ordered a five-day lockdown in Baiyun District
- Nationwide, China reported 26,824 new local cases
- Those arriving in Beijing had to take three days of exams
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s capital warned on Monday that it was facing the most severe test of the COVID-19 pandemic, closing businesses and schools in the hardest-hit areas and tightening rules for entering the city as the number of infections surged in Beijing. And at the national level.
China is battling multiple COVID-19 outbreaks, from Zhengzhou in central Henan Province to Chongqing in the southwest. It reported 26,824 new locally transmitted cases on Sunday, close to the country’s daily infection peak in April.
Two deaths were also recorded in Beijing, up from one on Saturday, and the first in China since late May.
Guangzhou, the southern city of about 19 million people battling China’s largest outbreak recently, ordered a five-day lockdown of Baiyun, its most populous district. It also suspended dining services and closed nightclubs and theaters in the city’s main business district.
The latest wave is testing China’s resolve to stick to adjustments it has made to its anti-coronavirus policy, which calls on cities to be more targeted in their repressive measures and steer clear of the widespread lockdowns and testing that have stifled the economy and demoralized the population.
Asian stock markets and oil prices fell on Monday as investors worried about the economic fallout from the worsening coronavirus situation in China, with risk aversion to bonds and the dollar.
Beijing reported 962 new infections on Sunday, up from 621 the day before, and another 316 in the first 15 hours of Monday.
City authorities said people arriving in the capital from elsewhere in China will need to undergo a three-day COVID test before they are allowed to leave their homes or accommodation.
“The city is facing the most complex and severe prevention and control situation since the outbreak of the coronavirus,” Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Beijing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a briefing.
You can’t go anywhere
Residents in Beijing’s sprawling Chaoyang District, which is home to 3.5 million people as well as embassies and office complexes, have been urged to stay home, as schools start running.
The streets were unusually quiet, and shops in the area other than those selling groceries seemed mostly closed.
The restaurants were empty, but there was one or two staff members huddled at the entrances around small tables with “takeaway only” signs.
“You can’t go anywhere. Everything is closed. Customers can’t come either. What can you do? You can’t do anything,” said Jia Shi, 32, a salesman in the pharmaceutical industry.
Staff at building entrances carried out rigorous mobile health app checks with the command now familiar to all Beijingers: “Scan the code!”
Change of approach
Several Chinese cities began cutting routine community-based COVID-19 testing last week, including the northern city of Shijiazhuang, which has become the subject of intense speculation that it could be a test bed to cool politics.
But late Sunday, Shijiazhuang announced it would conduct mass testing in six of its eight counties over the next five days after new daily domestic cases reached 641. It also encouraged residents to shop online and ordered some schools to suspend in-person teaching.
“They’ve been going on for a week,” said a popular comment on Weibo on the Shijiazhuang border, which was among the most viewed topics on the social media platform.
People’s Daily, the official organ of China’s ruling Communist Party, on Monday published an article emphasizing the need to catch infections early but to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach, its eighth article since China announced its publication. 20 amended action of 11 November.
Hopes and warnings
China’s recent efforts to make COVID-19 restrictions more targeted to investors have raised hopes of more significant easing even as China faces its first winter battling the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Many analysts expect such a shift to only begin in March or April, however, and the government argues that President Xi Jinping’s signature of the COVID-19 non-spread policy saves lives and is needed to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.
Experts argue that a full reopening would require a massive effort to promote vaccination and a change in messaging in a country where the disease is still widely feared. Authorities say they plan to build more hospitals and fever clinics to screen patients and are formulating a vaccination campaign.
Oxford Economics said it only expects to emerge from a zero-COVID situation in the second half of 2023, as vaccination rates for older adults remain relatively low.
“From an epidemiological and political perspective, we do not believe the country is yet ready to open up,” she said in Monday’s report.
Reporting from the Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms. Written by Brenda Goh. Editing by Tony Monroe, Lincoln Feast and Mike Harrison
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