China’s COVID-19 cases rose further yesterday, including in the capital, Beijing, even as many cities scaled back routine testing after authorities last week announced measures aimed at easing the impact of the country’s heavy coronavirus curbs.
China is scrambling to limit the damage of its “zero COVID-19” policy nearly three years into the pandemic, as the latest in a spate of dismal economic reports showed retail sales fell last month and factory output grew more slowly than expected.
While many residents have expressed guarded optimism after Friday’s announcement that some of the stringent COVID-19 policies would be eased, concerns grew this week over the worsening outbreaks and there was confusion as some cities halted or adjusted regular testing.
In Guangzhou, a southern city of nearly 19 million people, new infections crossed 5,000 for the first time, fueling speculation that district-level lockdowns could expand.
“The infection curve of Guangzhou is tracking the pace of Shanghai’s March-April outbreak, raising the question of whether a city-wide lockdown will be triggered,” JPMorgan analysts wrote, referring to Shanghai’s two-month lockdown this year.
“It would become a testing point regarding the government’s determination to push for the relaxation of COVID control measures,” they said.
China reported 17,772 new local COVID-19 infections for Monday, up from 16,072 new cases a day earlier and the most since April, with major cities, including Chongqing and Zhengzhou, among the worst-hit.
JPMorgan estimates that cities with more than 10 new cumulative cases in the past week are home to 780 million people and account for 62.2 percent of GDP — roughly triple the levels seen at the end of September.
On Monday, Beijing’s most populous district of Chaoyang, where most of its cases are located, moved some testing sites closer to residential compounds.
While that increased the overall number of sites, it also led to long waiting times in many cases, fueling frustration, as many workplaces and other venues still require negative test results from within 24 hours.
On Sina Weibo, a hashtag on testing booth closures was flooded with critical comments on Monday night before being censored: “What are working people supposed to do?” wrote one Weibo user. Another asked: “What kind of brain came up with this policy?”
Yesterday, state broadcaster CCTV said Chaoyang district was adding more testing sites, including near office buildings.
Beijing reported 462 new infections for Monday, up from 407 a day earlier.
Under China’s new rules, testing efforts are to be more targeted, easing what has been a significant financial burden on cities.
Friday’s easing announcement sparked a rally in stocks on hopes that China is signaling plans to end a policy that has all but shut its borders and caused frequent lockdowns, possibly starting after the annual session of parliament in March next year.
However, experts have said that full reopening would require a massive vaccination booster effort, given low levels of herd immunity resulting from China’s isolation during the pandemic.
It would also require a change in messaging, they said, in a country where catching COVID-19 is widely feared.
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