China yesterday braced for a “new phase” in its battle against COVID-19, as financial markets strengthened after Beijing dropped pandemic border controls in the latest easing of curbs that has let the virus loose on its 1.4 billion population.
Sunday’s reopening is one of the last steps in China’s dismantling of its “zero COVID” regime, which began last month after historic protests against curbs that kept the virus at bay for three years, but caused widespread frustration among its population and severe damage to the world’s second-largest economy.
While Beijing’s move to drop quarantine is expected also to boost outbound travel, several nations are demanding negative tests from visitors from China, seeking to contain an outbreak that is overwhelming many of China’s hospitals and crematoriums.
“Life is moving forward again,” the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial praising the government’s virus policies late on Sunday.
It said the government had moved from “preventing infection” to “preventing severe disease.”
“Today, the virus is weak, we are stronger,” it added.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the country had entered a “new phase” of its COVID-19 response, citing its virus prevention experience, the development of the epidemic and increased vaccination levels.
China’s top health officials and state media have repeatedly said that COVID-19 infections are peaking across the country and they are playing down the threat posed by the disease.
That is in stark contrast to the earlier regime of strict quarantines and lockdowns as China managed the virus as a “Category A” disease like the bubonic plague and cholera. China’s management of COVID-19 was downgraded to “Category B” on Sunday, although many curbs have been dropped for weeks.
Officially, China has reported just 5,272 COVID-19-related deaths as of Jan. 8, one of the lowest rates of death from the infection in the world.
The WHO has said that China is underreporting the scale of the outbreak and international health experts estimate that more than 1 million people in the country could die from the disease this year.
Shrugging off those gloomy forecasts, investors are betting that China’s reopening would help revive the US$17 trillion economy and bolster the outlook for global growth.
Those hopes lifted Asian shares to a five-month high yesterday, while the yuan firmed to its strongest level against the US dollar since mid-August.
China’s blue-chip index gained 0.7 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index climbed 1.6 percent.
“The ending of the zero COVID policy is ... going to have a major positive impact on domestic spending,” UBS group chief executive officer Ralph Hamers told the bank’s annual Greater China Conference yesterday.
“We believe there is a lot of opportunity for those committed to investing in China,” he said.
“It’s a huge relief just to be able to go back to normal ... just come back to China, get off the plane, get myself a taxi and just go home,” Michael Harrold, 61, a copy editor in Beijing said at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday after he arrived on a flight from Warsaw.
Harrold said he had been anticipating having to quarantine and do several rounds of testing on his return when he left for Europe for a Christmas break early last month.
State broadcaster China Central Television on Sunday reported that direct flights from South Korea to China were close to sold out. The report quickly shot to the most read item on Chinese social media site Sina Weibo.
However, a spike in demand from South Koreans, who make up the largest number of foreign residents in China, as well as others, will be hampered by the limited number of flights to and from China, which are at a small fraction of pre-COVID-19 levels.
Korean Air earlier this month said that it was halting a plan to increase flights to China due to Seoul’s cautious stance toward Chinese travelers.
South Korea like many other countries now requires travelers from China, Macau and Hong Kong to provide negative COVID-19 test results before departure.
Flight Master data showed that on Sunday China had a total of 245 international flights, combining inbound and outbound, compared with 2,546 flights on the same day in 2019, representing a fall of 91 percent.
China’s domestic tourism revenue this year is expected to recover to 70 to 75 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels, but the number of inbound and outbound trips is forecast to recover to only 30 to 40 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels this year, China News reported on Sunday.
Vaccines that protect against severe illness, death and lingering long COVID-19 symptoms from a SARS-CoV-2 infection were linked to small increases in neurological, blood and heart-related conditions in the largest global vaccine safety study to date. The rare events — identified early in the pandemic — included a higher risk of heart-related inflammation from mRNA shots made by Pfizer Inc, BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc, and an increased risk of a type of blood clot in the brain after immunization with viral-vector vaccines such as the one developed by the University of Oxford and made by AstraZeneca PLC. The viral-vector jabs were
A steam of sweat rose as hundreds of naked men tussled over a bag of wooden talismans, performing a dramatic end to a thousand-year-old ritual in Japan that took place for the last time. Their passionate chants of “jasso, joyasa” (“evil, be gone”) echoed through a ceder forest in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture, where the secluded Kokuseki Temple is ending the popular annual rite. Organizing the event, which draws hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, has become a heavy burden for the aging local faithful, who find it hard to keep up with the rigors of the ritual. The Sominsai festival,
COLLECTIVE ACTION: Over 150 trainee doctors quit over the government’s plan to increase medical school admissions by 2,000 students next school year The South Korean government yesterday warned that trainee doctors were putting public health at risk after more than 150 tendered their resignations to protest a government plan to admit more students to medical schools. The South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare said it had issued a back-to-work order to the 154 doctors at seven hospitals, warning that refusing to comply would result in punishment. The government plans to raise medical school admissions by 2,000 students for the 2025 academic year and to add 10,000 doctors by 2035. Currently, about 3,000 students enter medical schools each year. The plan has drawn intense protests
‘PUTIN IS RESPONSIBLE’: Authorities detained more than 100 people in Russia, as mourners remembered the opposition leader outside embassies around the world Floral tributes to Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe who died on Friday in a Russian penal colony, were removed overnight by groups of unidentified people while police watched, videos on Russian social media show. More than 100 people were detained in eight cities across Russia after they came to lay flowers in memory of Navalny, said OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia. Yesterday, police blocked access to a memorial in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and detained several people there as well as in another Siberian city, Surgut, OVD-Info said. Video footage shared on social media