Mask-wearing commuters from Beijing and Shanghai are crowding subway trains, and China’s two biggest cities are moving closer to living with COVID-19 as millions have been infected with the virus across the country.
After years of ruthless coronavirus restrictions, President Xi Jinping scrapped the country’s zero-COVID policy in the face of protests and a widening outbreak.
But after the initial shock of the policy U-turn, and a few weeks in which people in Beijing and Shanghai stayed at home, dealing with illness or trying to avoid it, there are signs that life is on its way back. to normal. .
Subway trains in Beijing and Shanghai were packed on Monday, while some major traffic arteries in the two cities were clogged with slow-moving cars as residents headed to work.
An annual Christmas market held on the Bund, a commercial area in Shanghai, was also packed over the weekend. Crowds packed into the festive winter season at Shanghai Disneyland and Beijing’s Universal Studios on Sunday, lining up for attractions in Christmas-themed attire.
The number of trips to scenic spots in the southern city of Guangzhou this weekend increased by 132 percent from last weekend, local newspaper The 21st Century Business Herald reported.
China is the latest major country to move towards treating COVID as endemic. His containment measures had slowed the $17 trillion economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, disrupting supply chains and global trade.
The economy is expected to suffer even more in the near term, as the wave of COVID spreads into manufacturing areas and the workforce falls ill, before recovering next year, analysts say.
Tesla suspended production at its Shanghai plant on Saturday, ahead of a plan to stop most work at the plant in the last week of December. The company did not give a reason.
Despite a record rise in cases across the country, China reported no COVID deaths on the mainland for the six days to Sunday, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday, even as crematoria faced a growing demand.
China has narrowed its definition to classify deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving pneumonia or respiratory failure caused by COVID, surprising global health experts.
The country’s healthcare system has been under enormous strain, with staff being asked to work while sick and retired medical workers in rural communities are rehired to help, according to state media.
The provincial government of Zhejiang, a large industrial province near Shanghai with a population of 65.4 million, said on Sunday it was fighting around a million new COVID-19 infections a day, a number expected to double. in the coming days.
Health authorities in the southeastern province of Jiangxi have said infections will peak in early January, adding that there could be further spikes as people travel next month for Lunar New Year celebrations, state media reported. .
They warned that the wave of infections would last three months and that about 80 percent of the 45 million inhabitants of the province could be infected.
The city of Qingdao, in the eastern Shandong province, has estimated that up to 530,000 residents are infected daily.
Cities in China have rushed to add intensive care units and fever clinics, which are designed to prevent the spread of contagious diseases in hospitals.
The Beijing municipal government has said the number of fever clinics in the city has increased from 94 to nearly 1,300, state media said. Shanghai has 2,600 such clinics and has transferred doctors from less-pressured medical departments to help.
Concerns remain about the ability of China’s less prosperous cities to cope with a surge in serious infections, especially as hundreds of millions of rural migrant workers are expected to return to their families for the Lunar New Year.