BEIJING, Dec 11 (Reuters) – The COVID-19 gloom deepened in Beijing on Sunday, with many shops and other businesses shuttered, an expert warned, as anger over China’s previous COVID policies gave way to concerns about dealing with infections , so there are thousands of new coronavirus cases.
China lifted most of its strict COVID restrictions on Wednesday following unprecedented protests over COVID-19 last month, but economic activity in cities such as Beijing, already battling the worst outbreaks, was lifted after rules such as regular testing were scrapped. A sharp decline.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many businesses were forced to close as infected employees quarantined at home, while many others decided not to go out due to the higher risk of infection.
Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, told state media that the Omicron strain circulating in China is highly contagious and that one infected person can spread it to as many as 18 people.
“We can see hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people being infected in several major cities,” Chung said.
Official tallies of new cases have plummeted as regular COVID testing of Beijing residents was scrapped and reserved only for groups such as health workers.
On Saturday, health authorities reported 1,661 new infections in Beijing, down 42% from 3,974 on Dec. 12. 6. The national policy was greatly relaxed the day before.
But there is evidence that there are many more cases in this city of nearly 22 million people, and everyone seems to know someone with COVID.
“At my company, the number of people who are COVID-negative is almost zero,” said a woman who works for a tour and events company in Beijing, who asked to be identified only as Nancy.
“We realize it’s inevitable – everyone has to work from home,” she said.
Sundays are the normal business day for stores in Beijing and are usually lively, especially in places like the historic Shichahai neighbourhood, which are full of boutiques and cafes.
But few people were out on Sunday, with shopping centers in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous district, nearly empty and many salons, restaurants and retailers closed.
Economists widely expect China’s road to economic health will be bumpy, as shocks such as labor shortages caused by workers taking sick leave delay a full recovery for some time.
Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, said: “The transition from zero COVID will eventually bring consumer spending patterns back to normal, but the higher risk of infection will keep personal spending months after reopening. The downturn continues,” the note said.
According to Capital Economics, China’s economy may grow 1.6% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023 and 4.9% in the second quarter.
Epidemiologist Zhong also said it would take several months before things return to normal.
“My opinion is the first half of next year, after March,” he said.
While China lifted most of its domestic COVID restrictions, its international borders remain largely closed to foreigners, including tourists.
Arriving travelers undergo a five-day quarantine at central government facilities and an additional three days of self-monitoring at home.
But there are even signs that the rule may be changing.
Asked whether quarantine rules would be eased, staff at Chengdu’s main international airport said whether a three-day home quarantine would be required starting Saturday would depend on the authorities in the individual’s community.
(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of “woman” in paragraph 9)
Reporting by Ryan Woo, Albee Zhang, Josh Arslan, Liz Lee and Judy Hua; Editing by Robert Bersell
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.