- Life in Shanghai, Beijing is returning to normal
- Cities across China are reporting large numbers of infections
- China reports no COVID deaths for 6th straight day
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec. 26 (Reuters) – Commuters in Beijing and Shanghai wearing masks carried crowded subways on Monday, with China’s two biggest cities getting closer to living with COVID-19 as millions contracted the largely uncontrolled virus across the country.
After three years of reckless containment of the coronavirus, President Xi Jinping scrapped the country’s zero-COVID policy with lockdowns and relentless testing this month amid protests and a widening outbreak.
Health experts and residents fear China’s statistics, which have reported no new COVID deaths in the six days to Sunday, do not reflect the true number of deaths and that the country’s fragile health system is overwhelmed.
After the initial shock of the policy reversal and a few weeks during which people in Beijing and Shanghai stayed at home, either coping with the disease or trying to avoid it, there are signs that life is on the way to change to approach normality.
Subways in Beijing and Shanghai were overcrowded, while some main thoroughfares in the two cities were clogged with slow-moving cars on Monday as residents commuted to work.
“I am ready to live with the pandemic,” said Lin Zixin, 25, from Shanghai. “Lockdowns are not a long-term solution
In an effort to prevent infections from spiraling out of control across the country, the 25 million people in China’s commercial hub have endured two months of bitter isolation under a strict lockdown that lasted until June 1 this year.
Shanghai’s busy streets contrasted sharply with the atmosphere of April and May, when hardly anyone was seen outside.
An annual Christmas market in the Bund, a commercial area in Shanghai, was popular with city dwellers over the weekend. Crowds thronged at Shanghai Disneyland and Beijing’s Universal Studios on Sunday during the festive winter season, queuing for rides dressed in Christmas outfits.
The number of trips to scenic spots in the southern city of Guangzhou this weekend rose 132% from last weekend, local newspaper The 21st Century Business Herald reported.
“Now basically everyone has gone back to a normal routine,” said a 29-year-old Beijing resident surnamed Han. “The tense atmosphere is over.”
China is the latest major country to move to treating COVID as endemic. Its containment measures had slowed the $17 trillion economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, disrupting global supply chains and trade.
The world’s second-largest economy is expected to continue to suffer in the near term as the COVID wave spreads to manufacturing sectors and workers sicken before recovering next year, analysts say.
Tesla halted production at its Shanghai plant on Saturday, moving forward with a plan to halt most work at the plant during the last week of December. The company did not give a reason.
The world’s most populous country has narrowed its definition for classifying deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving COVID-related pneumonia or respiratory failure, raising eyebrows among world health experts.
According to state media, the country’s healthcare system is under a huge strain as staff are asked to work while sick and retired medical workers in rural communities are reinstated to help.
The provincial government of Zhejiang, a major industrial province near Shanghai with a population of 65.4 million, said Sunday it is battling about a million new COVID-19 infections every day, a number expected to double in the coming days .
Health officials in the southeastern province of Jiangxi said infections would peak in early January, adding that there could be further peaks as people travel for the Lunar New Year celebrations next month, state media reported.
They warned that the wave of infections would last three months and that around 80 percent of the province’s 45 million inhabitants could become infected.
The city of Qingdao in eastern Shandong province estimates that up to 530,000 residents become infected every day.
Cities across China are scrambling to add intensive care units and fever clinics, facilities designed to prevent the further spread of contagious diseases in hospitals.
The Beijing municipal government said the number of fever clinics in the city has increased to nearly 1,300 from 94, state media said. Shanghai has 2,600 such clinics and has transferred doctors from less-burdened medical departments to help.
Concerns remain about the ability of less affluent cities in China to cope with a surge in severe infections, especially as hundreds of millions of rural migrant workers are expected to return to their families for the Lunar New Year.
“I worry that the crowd will be huge… (and) the epidemic will break out again,” said Lin, who lives in Shanghai.
Reporting from the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Letter from Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle
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