- Three deaths over the weekend in Beijing, first since May
- Guangzhou orders a five-day lockdown of its Baiyun district
- China reported 26,824 new local cases nationwide
BEIJING, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Students in schools in several Beijing districts buckled up for online classes on Monday after officials urged residents in some of the hardest-hit areas to stay home as COVID cases hit in China’s capital and nationwide rose higher.
China is battling numerous outbreaks of COVID-19, from Zhengzhou in central Henan province to Chongqing in the southwest. 26,824 new local cases were reported for Sunday, nearing the daily peak of the country’s pandemic in April.
Two deaths were also recorded in Beijing, up from one on Saturday, the first in China since late May.
Guangzhou, a southern city of nearly 19 million battling the largest of China’s recent outbreaks, ordered a five-day lockdown for Baiyun, its most populous district. It also suspended dining services and closed nightclubs and theaters in the city’s main business district.
The latest wave is testing China’s resolve to stick with the adjustments it has made to its zero-COVID policy, which urges cities to be more selective in their tough measures and stay away from widespread lockdowns and testing that the strangled the economy and frustrated residents.
Asian stock markets and oil prices slid on Monday as investors worried about the economic fallout from the worsening COVID situation in China, with risk aversion benefiting bonds and the dollar.
Beijing reported 962 new infections, up from 621 the day before. The sprawling Chaoyang District, home to 3.5 million people, urged residents to stay home as schools went online.
Streets were quiet and residents were encouraged to work from home. Businesses other than grocery stores appeared to be mostly closed.
“You have nowhere to go. everything is closed Customers can’t come either. What can you do? They can’t do anything,” said Jia Xi, 32, a salesman in the medical industry.
Some schools in Haidian, Dongcheng and Xicheng districts also stopped face-to-face classes.
reversal of approach
Several Chinese cities last week began cutting back on routine community COVID-19 testing, including the northern city of Shijiazhuang, which has become the subject of intense speculation that it could be a testing ground for policy relaxation.
But late Sunday, Shijiazhuang announced it would conduct mass testing in six of its eight districts over the next five days after seeing 641 new cases appear locally every day. It also encouraged residents to shop online and ordered some schools to suspend in-person classes.
“They lasted a week,” read a popular comment on Weibo about Shijiazhuang’s curbs, which have been among the most-watched topics on the social media platform.
The People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, on Monday published another article reiterating the need to detect infections early but avoid a “one-size-fits-all approach,” the eighth such article since China announced its 20 adjustments took action on Nov 11
The National Health Commission on Monday released more detailed guidance on applying these measures to testing, delineating and managing risk areas, and home isolation practices.
“FEEL THE STONES”
China’s recent efforts to better target its COVID-19 containment have raised investor hopes for more significant easing, even as China faces its first winter dedicated to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
However, many analysts believe such a shift won’t begin until March or April, as the government argues that the zero-COVID policy signed by President Xi Jinping saves lives and is necessary to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed becomes.
Experts argue that a full reopening will require a massive boost in vaccinations and a change in messaging in a country where the disease remains widely feared. Authorities say they plan to build more hospital capacity and fever clinics to screen patients and are formulating a vaccination campaign.
Oxford Economics said it does not expect a zero-COVID exit until the second half of 2023, with vaccination rates for the elderly still comparatively low.
“From an epidemiological and political point of view, we believe that the country is not yet ready to open up,” a report said on Monday.
Hao Hong, chief economist at GROW Investment Group, said in a separate note that a gradual and controlled reopening may already be underway, with back-and-forth rounds as China “crosses the river feeling the rocks along the way.”
“Despite the growing challenges, it is not a question of whether China will reopen, but a question of how long and how best to proceed to minimize healthcare costs and potential loss of life,” he said.
reporting to the newsrooms in Shanghai and Beijing; writing by Brenda Goh; Adaptation of Tony Munroe and Lincoln Feast
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.