- Queues outside flu clinics in Beijing, Wuhan
- A top virus expert says the peak may come in a month
- Stocks also expressed concern over cases of a falling yuan
- China moves to liberalize domestic travel
BEIJING/HONG KONG, Dec 12 (Reuters) – People queued outside flu clinics in Chinese hospitals on Monday for COVID-19 screenings, a new sign of the rapid spread of symptoms after authorities began to loosen strict restrictions on movement.
Three years into the pandemic, China is moving to adapt to a world that is increasingly open to living with COVID, making a major policy shift last Wednesday after unprecedented protests.
It has dropped early testing for many activities, has been regulated in quarantine and is preparing to disable a mobile app used to track the travel history of 1.4 billion people.
Officials continue to urge mask-wearing and vaccinations, especially for the elderly.
But with little exposure to the disease, analysts say China is ill-prepared for a wave of infections that could strain its fragile health system and bring businesses to a halt.
Lily Li, who works at a toy company in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou, said several employees and staff at suppliers and distributors have been infected and are isolating at home.
“Basically everyone is now rushing to buy rapid antigen test kits at once but have given up a little bit of hope that they will contain COVID,” he said.
“We’ve accepted that we’re going to have to get through COVID at some point anyway.”
In Beijing, as ambulances zipped by, about 80 people huddled in the cold outside a fever clinic in the upscale district of Chaoyang.
A Beijing government official said Monday night that visits to such clinics had risen to 22,000 a day, a 16-fold increase from the previous week.
Reuters witnessed similar queues outside clinics in Wuhan, the central city where COVID-19 first emerged three years ago. Read more
In recent weeks, local cases have trended lower from a peak of 40,052 in late November, official figures show. Sunday’s tally was 8,626, down from 10,597 new cases the previous day.
But analysts say the figures reflect a drop in testing requirements, while health experts warn of an imminent surge.
In comments on Monday in the state-backed newspaper Shanghai Securities News, Zhang Wenhong, head of the Commerce Center’s expert team, said the current outbreak could peak in a month, although the epidemic could last three to six months. distance
In a WeChat post, Zhang’s team said that despite the outbreak, the current omicron strain has not caused long-term damage and people should be optimistic.
“We’re about to come out of the tunnel; wind, sun, free travel, everything awaits us,” the post said.
Stocks, Yuan Sag
China’s stock markets retreated broadly and the yuan eased from a three-month high hit in the previous session, as investors fretted that rising infections could disrupt consumption and production.
But for the same reason, demand for stocks rose among Chinese drugmakers and suppliers of masks, antigen tests and funeral services.
“Please protect yourselves,” the management of a condominium in the capital’s Dongcheng district warned residents on Sunday, saying almost all of its staff were infected.
“Try as hard as you can not to go out…” it said on messaging app WeChat. “Be the first to take responsibility for your own health, let’s face this together.”
Such messages seem to hit home for some who say they are reluctant to visit crowded places or eat at restaurants.
That’s why some analysts expect a quick, broad recovery in the world’s second-largest economy, as the euphoria that greeted the sudden relaxations creates uncertainty for consumers and businesses.
China is pushing to open up travel nationwide, even if foreign travel is limited.
According to a notification on its official WeChat account, the state-mandated mobile app that identifies travelers to COVID-affected areas will be shut down at midnight on Monday.
The number of domestic flights available across China has exceeded 7,400, nearly double a week ago, flight tracker app Variflight showed.
New home sales rose in 16 cities last week, partly due to easing restrictions as people ventured out to view homes, the China Index Academy said.
Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Ryan Wu, Bernard Orr, Sophie Yu in Beijing, Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Martin Qin Pollard in Wuhan, and Josh Yeh and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Writing by John Geddy; Edited by Clarence Fernandes and Nick McPhee
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.