Beijing, Dec 11 (EFE).- Beijing is in the midst of its worst Covid outbreak since the pandemic began, due in large part to the sudden relaxation of the strict pandemic measures in the wake of protests in several cities over discontent with the Chinese government’s ‘zero Covid’ policy.
Last week, the government – instead of doubling down on the draconian rules that had been in place for nearly three years and which as recently as last month was insisting would remain – announced a series of measures suddenly easing the tough restrictions on daily life as the country switched lanes to start living with the virus rather than trying to eradicate it.
The developments have had a major impact on large cities, such as the capital Beijing and Guangzhou (south), where thousands of positive cases are being registered every day.
The relaxation of the restrictions has created a situation that was unimaginable in China only a few months ago.
China’s health commission reported 10,815 new positive cases on Sunday, including 1,661 in the capital, although evidence both on the ground and online suggests that there are many more infections that have been unaccounted for.
The reduction in the frequency of PCR testing of the population and the use of home antigen tests to detect positive cases, many of which go unreported, have meant that the real situation in the capital is likely much more serious than what authorities are reporting.
In addition, Beijing residents have to contend with a shortage of antigen tests in pharmacies, sometimes forcing them to wait three to five days to receive the kits and get tested.
Due to the current outbreak in the Chinese capital, most restaurants and bars have remained closed, but stores and malls have reopened, bringing some life back to the city’s streets.
Experts have warned, however, not to expect too rapid a recovery while the country slowly emerges from nearly three years of restrictions and learns to live with the virus.
“The transition out of zero-Covid will eventually allow consumer spending patterns to return to normal, but a higher risk of infection will keep in-person spending depressed for months,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, said in a statement.
China’s economy may grow 1.6% in the first quarter of 2023 from a year earlier, and 4.9% in the second quarter, according to Capital Economics.
Restrictions within the ‘zero Covid’ policy domestically have all but disappeared, but international borders remain largely closed to travelers coming from abroad.
Travelers entering the country remain subject to five days of quarantine at centralized government facilities and an additional three days of self-monitoring at home, although in-home monitoring is up to increasingly lax neighborhood authorities, raising hopes among many residents who have not left China for nearly three years. EFE