China COVID Cases Rise, Hard-hit Beijing Tightens Access Rules

  • Three weekend deaths in Beijing for the first time since May
  • Guangzhou orders a five-day lockdown of its Baiyun district
  • China reported 26,824 new local cases nationally
  • Arrivals in Beijing had to test for three days

BEIJING, Nov 21 (Reuters) – China’s capital warned Monday it faced the toughest test of the COVID-19 pandemic, closing businesses and schools in hard-hit districts and tightening rules for entering the city as infections ramped up in Beijing and nationally.

China is battling numerous flare-ups of COVID-19, from Zhengzhou in central Henan province to Chongqing in the southwest. It reported 26,824 new local cases on Sunday, approaching the country’s daily infection peak in April.

It also recorded two deaths in Beijing, up from one on Saturday, the first in China since late May.

Guangzhou, a southern city of nearly 19 million that is battling the largest of China’s recent outbreaks, has placed Baiyun, its most populous district, on lockdown for five days. It also suspended dinner services and closed nightclubs and theaters in the city’s main business district.

The latest wave is testing China to stick with the adjustments it has made to its zero-COVID policy, which calls on cities to be more focused in their suppression measures and steer clear of widespread lockdowns and testing that have hit the economy strangled and frustrated the inhabitants.

Asian stock markets and oil prices fell Monday amid investor concerns about the economic fallout from China’s intensified COVID situation, with risk aversion benefiting bonds and the dollar.

Beijing reported 962 new infections on Sunday, up from 621 a day earlier, and another 316 cases for the first 15 hours of Monday.

The city government said people arriving in the capital from elsewhere in China must be tested for COVID for three days before being allowed to leave their homes or accommodation.

“The city is facing the most complex and serious prevention and control situation since the outbreak of the coronavirus,” Liu Xiaofeng, the deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a press briefing.

‘YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE’

Residents of Beijing’s sprawling Chaoyang district, home to 3.5 million people, as well as embassies and office complexes, were urged to stay home as schools went online.

The streets were unusually quiet, and the neighborhood’s shops, except those selling groceries, seemed largely closed.

Restaurants were empty but for one or two staff sat near the entrances around small tables with “Take Out Only” signs.

“You can’t go anywhere. Everything is closed. Customers can’t come either. What can you do? You can’t do anything,” said Jia Xi, 32, a salesperson from the medical industry.

Employees at building entrances conducted strict checks on mobile phone health apps with the command now known to all Beijingers: “Scan the code!”

CHANGE OF APPROACH

Several Chinese cities last week began scrapping routine community COVID-19 testing, including the northern city of Shijiazhuang, which became the subject of fervent speculation that it could be a testbed for policy easing.

But late on Sunday, Shijiazhuang announced it would conduct mass testing in six of its eight districts over the next five days after recording 641 new cases daily. It also encouraged residents to shop online and ordered some schools to suspend face-to-face education.

“They lasted a week,” said a popular comment on Weibo about the Shijiazhuang curbs, one of the most viewed topics on the social media platform.

The People’s Daily, the official organ of the ruling Communist Party of China, published an article on Monday reiterating the need to detect infections early, but avoid adopting a “one-size-fits-all” approach. to be continued. 20 adjusted measures on 11 Nov.

HOPE AND WARNINGS

China’s recent efforts to make its COVID-19 restrictions more targeted have raised investor hopes for greater easing, even as China heads into its first winter with the highly transferable Omicron variant.

However, many analysts don’t expect such a shift to begin until March or April, with the government claiming that President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy is saving lives and is necessary to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

Experts argue full reopening requires a massive vaccine booster and a change in messaging in a country where the disease is still widely feared. Authorities say they plan to build more hospital capacity and fever clinics to screen patients and formulate a vaccination campaign.

Oxford Economics said it doesn’t expect an exit from zero-COVID until the second half of 2023, with vaccination rates still relatively low for the elderly.

“From an epidemiological and political perspective, we don’t think the country is ready to open yet,” it said in a report Monday.

Reporting by the Shanghai and Beijing editorial offices; Written by Brenda Goh; Edited by Tony Munroe, Lincoln Feast and Mike Harrison

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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