- Queues outside fever clinics in Beijing, Wuhan
- Top virus expert says peak could come in a month
- Equities, yuan fell on rising case concerns
- China is taking steps to liberalize domestic travel
BEIJING/HONG KONG, Dec. 12 (Reuters) – People lined up outside fever clinics in Chinese hospitals for COVID-19 checks on Monday, a new sign of the rapid spread of symptoms after authorities began dismantling strict restrictions on movement.
Three years into the pandemic, China is trying to join a world that has largely opened up to living with COVID, making a major policy change last Wednesday after unprecedented protests.
It has dropped testing ahead of many activities, reined in quarantine and prepared to deactivate a mobile app used to track the travel history of a population of 1.4 billion.
Authorities continue to insist on wearing masks and vaccinations, especially for the elderly.
But with little exposure to a disease that has so far been largely contained, analysts say China is ill-prepared for a wave of infections that could strain its fragile health system and bring businesses to a standstill.
Lily Li, who works at a toy company in Guangzhou’s southern manufacturing center, said several employees, as well as staff at suppliers and distributors, were infected and were self-isolating at home.
“Basically everyone is now rushing to buy rapid antigen test kits at the same time, but has also somewhat given up hope that COVID can be contained,” she said.
“We’ve accepted that we’re going to have to get COVID anyway.”
In Beijing, about 80 people huddled in the cold outside a fever clinic in the posh Chaoyang district as ambulances raced by.
A government official in Beijing said on Monday evening that visits to such clinics had risen to 22,000 a day, 16 times more than the previous week.
Reuters witnessed similar queues outside clinics in the central city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 first emerged three years ago. read more
In recent weeks, local cases have been on a downward trend since a peak of 40,052 in late November, official figures show. Sunday’s number of 8,626 was lower than the 10,597 new cases the previous day.
But the numbers reflect the drop in testing requirements, analysts say, while health experts have warned of an imminent rise.
In comments on Monday in the state-backed newspaper Shanghai Securities News, Zhang Wenhong, head of a team of experts in the commercial center, said the current outbreak could peak within a month, although the end of the pandemic is three to can take six months. away.
In a WeChat post, Zhang’s team said the current Omicron strain caused no long-term damage despite the surge, and people should be optimistic.
“We are about to walk out of the tunnel; sky, sunshine, free travel, everything awaits us,” the post read.
STOCKS, YUAN SAG
Chinese stock markets generally retreated and the yuan fell from a nearly three-month high in the previous session as investors worried that rising infections could disrupt consumption and production.
But for the same reason, demand for supplies in Chinese drug makers and suppliers of masks, antigen tests and funeral services rose.
“Please protect yourself,” the management of a condominium in the capital’s Dongcheng district warned residents on Sunday, saying nearly all staff were infected.
“Try as much as you can not to go out…” the messaging app WeChat read. “Be the first person to take responsibility for your own health. Let’s face this together.”
Such messages seem to have reached some who say they are reluctant to visit busy places or dine in restaurants.
As a result, few analysts expect a quick and broad recovery in spending in the world’s second-largest economy, as the glee that accompanied the abrupt easing was tempered by uncertainty for consumers and businesses.
Still, China is pushing for the liberalization of travel across the country, even if it will be some time before foreign travel can take place.
A state-mandated mobile app that identifies travelers to COVID-affected areas will shut down at midnight on Monday, according to a post on his official WeChat account.
The number of available domestic flights across China surpassed 7,400, almost double from a week ago, flight tracker app VariFlight showed.
New home sales picked up in 16 cities last week, in a move partly attributed to easing curbs as people head out to view homes, according to the China Index Academy.
Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Ryan Woo, Bernard Orr, Sophie Yu in Beijing, Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Martin Quin Pollard in Wuhan, and Josh Ye and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Written by John Geddie; Edited by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.