On Sunday, many stores and other businesses in Beijing were closed due to COVID-19, and an expert warned of thousands of new coronavirus infections as resentment over China’s prior COVID measures gave way to concern about infection.
Once massive demonstrations last month, China lifted most of its tight COVID curbs on Wednesday, but cities already dealing with serious outbreaks, such as Beijing, suffered a dramatic decline in economic activity after rules such as regular testing were abandoned.
According to anecdotal evidence, several firms have been forced to close as ill staff quarantine at home, while many others have decided not to go out due to the increased danger of infection.
According to Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, the Omicron strain of the virus that is prevalent in China is highly transmissible, and one infected individual can transfer it to up to 18 people.
“We can observe that hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people in various large cities are affected,” Zhong said. With regular COVID testing of Beijing citizens discontinued and limited to groups such as health workers, official counts of new cases have plummeted.
Health officials reported 1,661 new illnesses in Beijing on Saturday, a 42% decrease from 3,974 the day before national regulations were substantially relaxed. However, data suggests that there are many more cases in the city of roughly 22 million people, where everyone appears to know someone who has contracted COVID.
“In my company, the number of employees who are COVID-negative is close to zero,” said Nancy, a woman who works for a tourist and events firm in Beijing. “We recognise that this cannot be prevented; everyone will simply have to work from home,” she stated.
Sunday is a typical business day in Beijing, and it is usually busy, especially in areas like the old Shichahai district, which is filled with boutiques and cafes. On Sunday, however, few people were out and about, and malls in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous neighbourhood, were virtually abandoned, with many hairdressers, restaurants, and businesses closed.
Economists typically expect China’s road to economic health to be bumpy, with shocks like labour shortages caused by workers calling in sick delaying a full-fledged recovery for some time. “The move away from zero-COVID will gradually allow consumer purchasing habits to return to normal,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note.
According to Capital Economics, China’s GDP would rise 1.6% year on year in the first quarter of 2023, and 4.9% in the second. Epidemiologist Zhong also predicted that it would be months before everything returned to normal. “In my perspective, after March in the first half of next year,” he remarked.
While most domestic COVID restrictions have been lifted, China’s international borders remain mostly restricted to foreigners, especially tourists. Inbound travellers are quarantined for five days at centralised government facilities, followed by three days of self-monitoring at home. However, there are suggestions that this rule may alter.
When questioned if quarantine restrictions were being relaxed, staff at Chengdu’s main international airport indicated that as of Saturday, whether or not one needed to do the three days of home quarantine depended on a person’s neighbourhood authorities.