“It’s dead here”: China’s slow withdrawal from zero COVID

As evidenced by the quiet streets of Beijing on Friday and some business’ refusal to remove COVID curbs from their businesses, persistent anxieties over the coronavirus will likely hinder a quick return to health for China’s second largest economy.

However, the government released key elements of its “zero COVID” policy on Wednesday. This has helped keep the pandemic at bay for three years. But many are wary that they will be too eager to let go of the chains.

There were signs of life in Wuhan’s central area, which was the epicenter of the outbreak of the pandemic that erupted late 2019. Some areas of Wuhan were crowded with commuters Friday. Residents say that a return of normalcy is still a ways off.

A taxi driver named Wang said that “they’ve relaxed their measures, but still nobody around,” although he didn’t wish to reveal his full name.

You see the roads and streets, they should be busy with people. There isn’t one. But it’s all gone.”

China’s protests against COVID curbs have been a major show of discontent in recent weeks. This was the largest demonstration since the ten-year anniversary of President Xi Jinping’s election.

Some of the protesters were tracked down and detained by China’s security system. Now, they are anxiously waiting to find out their fate.

A little more than one month after the National Health Commission reiterated its commitment to strict virus containment policies, saying that it would “put people and their lives first”, authorities changed their stance and now tell people there is less to be afraid.

Zhong Nanshan is a well-known Chinese epidemiologist who stated that 99 percent of those infected by the virus will recover within 7-10 days. These comments were made by People’s Daily which is controlled by the Communist Party.

There are still signs that the new, reassuring message is not reaching all of its 1.4 billion citizens.

Some people have accepted the changes, with the requirement for testing dropping and the majority of infected individuals being allowed to stay at home. Others are struggling to overcome the habits they have developed over months under stifling lockdowns.

Many empty seats were seen in the Beijing subway’s peak rush hour, Friday morning. This was despite the fact that Beijing has eliminated the requirement to submit to negative testing to enter or ride the trains.

There were many downtown restaurants that had been closed for lunch.

China’s 5,235 deaths due to COVID is only a fraction of the 1.4 billion people it has. It is also extremely small by international standards. Experts warn that the death toll could exceed 1.5 million if exit plans are not made quickly enough.

The manufacturers are cautious and will continue to retain COVID curbs, until they have a better understanding of how the loosening of strict measures might affect their workplaces.

Reuters was told by businesses that they expected to be faced with lengthy periods of sick workers, which could cause disruptions to operations for several months.

Although testing has been dropped by authorities for some activities, Haidilao hotpot chain (6862.HK), said that it will continue to conduct daily PCR tests on its staff in Beijing’s dine-in restaurants.

Business leaders and analysts expect China to see a rebound in the second half of next year, as it continues to follow the path taken by other countries to overcome the illness and learn to accept its limitations.

China’s battered currency, the yuan, rose to three-month highs early Friday. Stock markets also rose because investors looked past poor data and focused on growth prospects.

Noel Quinn (HSBC.L), chief executive at HSBC, said that China’s recent measures were “meaningful progression” to a Shanghai financial forum.

He said via video link to the Shanghai Bund Summit, “I hope they can be an essential stepping stone towards full reopening mainland China’s border as soon as possible.”

However, a rise in infection rates could slow down economic growth over the coming months.

China Association of Automobile Manufacturers warns that COVID infection in large numbers could have a “disastrous impact” on the market for next year.

Jeffrey Goldstein (a consultant based in China who assists foreign companies to manufacture products in Asia), said, “There will be chaos.”

China’s three-years behind the rest, therefore what will happen in China mirrors what has happened elsewhere in the world.

Polls predicted that China would slow its growth to 3.2% by 2022. This is far lower than the 5.5% target, and one of the worst performance in nearly 50 years.


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