By Jesus Centeno
Beijing, Dec 16 (EFE).- With the Chinese government’s abandonment of the zero-Covid policy that limited the death toll to 5,235, this nation of 1.4 billion has entered uncharted waters marked by soaring infections, long lines at pharmacies and empty streets as many citizens opt for caution.
Here in Beijing, the dismantling of pandemic restrictions has been followed by a spike in cases, though the end of mass testing and authorities’ decision to stop tracking asymptomatic infections renders official statistics practically useless.
Instead of the hustle and bustle of pre-Covid-19 times, China’s capital has the air of a city under lockdown. Events are being canceled, schools and restaurants are closed and many stores have empty shelves.
“Almost all of my colleagues have gotten sick and nobody wants to go to the office now. It has been spreading very quickly, faster than any of us expected,” a Beijing resident identifying herself only as Qingxia tells EFE.
As a rationale for flipping from zero-Covid to “living with Covid,” the ruling Communist Party maintains that the spread of the ostensibly mild Omicron variant of Covid-19 will culminate in a “Covid exit wave” allowing China to return to “pre-epidemic conditions” by the middle of next year.
“People are not entirely clear about how to cope with the situation because it has not been experienced here until now,” Qingxia says.
Authorities in Beijing have opened additional “fever centers” to treat Covid-19 patients, acknowledging that “the explosion of cases is exercising great pressure on the medical services.”
People with “mild” infections are encouraged to go to hospitals or clinics only as a last resort.
Analysts suggest that economic activity will remain subdued for several months as families try to limit their exposure to the virus, a theory supported by figures showing that retail sales are down 5.9 percent from this time last year.
“The scale of the Chinese economy leads us to think that if there are no setbacks that force a retreat, it will regain its normal impetus in an short time,” Spanish researcher Xulio Rios, director of the Chinese Policy Observatory, told EFE.