As China starts dismantling ‘zero-COVID’ controls, fears of virus grow

Date:

  • Largest easing of curbs since the start of the pandemic
  • Cities are urging citizens to remain vigilant
  • Analysts say China is ill-prepared for a major spike in business

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec. 8 (Reuters) – As many Chinese embraced new freedoms on Thursday after the country dropped key parts of its hardline zero-COVID regime, there was growing concern that a virus, which had been largely contained, could soon could run wild.

Three years into the pandemic, many in China have been eager for Beijing to adapt its rigid virus prevention measures to the rest of the world, which has largely opened up in an effort to live with the disease.

Those frustrations culminated in widespread protests last month, the biggest expression of public discontent since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

Without saying it was in response to those protests, some cities and regions began easing COVID controls, in steps 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 self-quarantine at home and it has dropped the need for testing and health checks on mobile apps for a variety of activities, including traveling around the country.

According to the state press, domestic ticket sales for tourist and leisure spots have soared, while some people revealed on social media that they had tested positive for the virus – something that has previously been heavily stigmatized in China.

Others expressed caution.

“I know COVID is not so ‘horrific’ now, but it is still contagious and will hurt,” said a post on the Weibo platform. “The fear harbored in our hearts cannot be dispelled easily.”

“Too many positives!” said another Weibo user.

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.

Several multimillion-dollar projects to build testing labs across the country, from Shandong province in the east to Sichuan in the southwest, have been scrapped as China has reduced the need for testing, Shanghai’s government-backed news outlet The Paper reported.

Chinese and Hong Kong stocks boosted Asian stock markets on Thursday as these still tentative steps toward reopening gave the world’s second-largest economy a chance to regain momentum.

The Chinese yuan, which has also gained some ground against the dollar in recent weeks, was little changed on Thursday.

BAD PREPARED

China’s most populous city, Shanghai, which has endured one of the country’s longest and toughest lockdowns, dropped the need for COVID testing before entering restaurants or entertainment venues on Thursday.

There has been no mention of China’s “zero COVID” policy in recent announcements, raising suspicions that the term is becoming defunct as the government gradually moves the country to a state of living with the virus.

Top officials have also softened their tone on the dangers of the virus.

But as they introduced the new, more relaxed controls, some cities urged residents to remain vigilant.

“The general public should be well aware of personal protection and be the first responsible person for their own health,” Zhengzhou, the central city that is home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, said in a message to residents.

It urged residents to wear masks, maintain social distancing, seek medical attention for fever and other COVID symptoms and, especially for the elderly, get vaccinated.

Some analysts and medical experts say China is ill-prepared for a major wave of infections, in part because of low vaccination rates among the frail elderly and fragile healthcare system.

“It (China) may have to pay for its procrastination in embracing a ‘living with COVID’ approach,” Nomura analysts said in a note Thursday.

China’s infection rate is only about 0.13%, “a far cry from the level needed for herd immunity,” Nomura said.

Feng Zijian, a former official of China’s Center for Disease Control, told the China Youth Daily that up to 60% of China’s population could be infected during the first large-scale wave before it stabilized.

“Eventually about 80%-90% of people will get infected,” he said.

The country is likely to face a large-scale outbreak in the next one to two months, the state magazine China Newsweek reported Thursday, citing health experts.

China’s current number of 5,235 COVID-related deaths is a small fraction of its population of 1.4 billion, and extremely low by global standards. Some experts have warned that the toll could rise above 1.5 million if the exit is too hasty.

But even with the dangers, there is an acceptance for many that life must go on.

“It’s impossible to kill this virus completely, maybe you just have to live with it and hope it will develop into the flu,” said Yan, a 22-year-old unemployed Beijing resident who hoped a further opening of the Chinese economy would help him. to find a job.

Reporting by Ella Cao, Bernard Orr, Ryan Woo and Albee Zhang and the Beijing newsroom and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Written by John Geddie; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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