BEIJING, December 11 (Reuters) – Beijing’s COVID-19 gloom deepened on Sunday as many stores and other businesses closed, and anger over China’s previous COVID policies has given way to concerns over dealing with infection, an expert has warned of thousands of new coronavirus cases.
China lowered most of its strict COVID curbs on Wednesday after an unprecedented event protests But cities like Beijing already battling the most severe epidemics have seen a sharp decline in economic activity after rules such as regular testing were lifted.
Anecdotal evidence shows that while infected workers are quarantined at home, many businesses are forced to close, while many others decide not to go out because of the higher risk of infection.
Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, told state media that the Omicron strain of the virus, which is common in China, is highly contagious, and an infected person can infect 18 people.
“We may see hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people infected in several major cities,” Zhong said. Said.
Official numbers for new cases have plummeted, with Beijing residents removing regular COVID testing and splitting them into groups such as healthcare workers only.
Health officials reported 1,661 new infections for Beijing on Saturday, down 42% from 3,974 on 1 December. 6, a day before the significant relaxation of national policies.
But the evidence suggests that there are many more cases in the city of nearly 22 million people, where everyone seems to know someone who has contracted COVID.
“The number of people at my company who are COVID-negative is close to zero,” said a woman who works at a tourism and events firm in Beijing, who wishes to be identified as just Nancy.
“We realize that this cannot be avoided – everyone will have to work from home,” he said.
Sunday is a normal working day for shops in Beijing and is often bustling, especially in places like the historic Shichahai neighborhood, which is full of boutiques and cafes.
But very few people were out on Sunday, and shopping malls in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous district, were nearly empty, and many lounges, restaurants and retailers had closed.
Economists expect China’s path to economic health to be erratic due to shocks such as the labor crisis, where workers have yet to delay a full-fledged recovery from illness.
“A zero-COVID exit will eventually allow consumer spending patterns to return to normal, but a higher risk of infection will keep face-to-face spending under pressure for months after reopening,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics. said in a note.
According to Capital Economics, the Chinese economy could grow by 1.6% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023 and 4.9% in the second quarter.
Epidemiologist Zhong also said it will take several months for it to return to normal.
I think the first half of next year is after March,” he said.
Although China has lifted most of its domestic COVID curbs, its international borders are still largely closed to foreigners, including tourists.
Arriving passengers are subject to a five-day quarantine at central government facilities and an additional three days of self-monitoring at home.
But there are even hints that this rule may change.
Staff at the main international airport in Chengdu city, when asked whether quarantine rules have been eased, said it would be up to neighborhood authorities whether or not a person needs to do a three-day home quarantine from Saturday.
(This story has been edited to correct the spelling of ‘woman’ in paragraph 9.)
Prepared by Ryan Woo, Albee Zhang, Josh Arslan, Liz Lee and Judy Hua; Editing by Robert Birsel
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