China set out urgent plans to protect rural communities from COVID-19 yesterday, as millions of city-dwellers planned holidays for the first time in years after Beijing abandoned its stringent system of lockdowns and travel curbs.
There is particular concern about China’s hinterland in the run up to China’s Lunar New Year holiday starting on Jan. 22.
Rural areas are likely to be inundated with travelers returning to their hometowns and villages, which have had little exposure to the virus during the three years since the pandemic started.
The Chinese National Health Commission yesterday said it was ramping up vaccinations and building stocks of ventilators, essential drugs and test kits in rural areas. It also advised travelers to reduce contact with elderly relatives.
China’s international borders remain largely shut, but recent decisions to abandon testing prior to domestic travel and disable apps that tracked people’s journey history have allowed people to move around the country.
One of China’s most populous provinces, Henan, canceled all holidays for healthcare staff until the end of March to ensure “a smooth transition” as COVID-19 restrictions ease, state media reported on Thursday.
Multiple cities across the country of 1.4 billion people opened new vaccination sites to encourage the public to take booster shots, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported.
“Go all out” was the message from China’s state asset regulator in a statement late on Thursday that urged government-owned drugmakers to ensure supplies of medicines related to COVID-19 would meet “the rapid increase” in demand.
SF Express, one of China’s largest courier services, said on its official WeChat account that it had sent workers from across the country to keep deliveries going in Beijing amid staff shortages and soaring demand.
It had started a “fast track” for emergency shipments such as medicines and daily necessities, with demand in the capital 300 percent above normal levels, it said.
The COVID-19 scare in China also led people in Hong Kong, Macau and in some neighborhoods in Australia to search for fever medicines and test kits for family and friends in China.
Many Chinese are resigned to catching the virus at some point.
“Everyone will get it, I guess,” a 29-year-old Beijing resident surnamed Du said.
Analysts said that China could pay a price for letting the virus rapidly rip through a population that lacks “herd immunity” and has low vaccination rates among the elderly.
That has dented the prospects for near-term growth, even if the opening up should eventually help revive China’s battered economy, they said.
JPMorgan yesterday revised down its expectations for China’s growth this year to 2.8 percent, which is well below China’s official target of 5.5 percent, and would mark one of China’s worst performances in about half a century.
“Arduous efforts” are needed to sustain the recovery in growth due to an adverse external environment and the global economy’s loss of momentum, the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission said.
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