Sluggish exit from zero-Covid

It’s over: Health workers carrying barricades inside a residential community after the end of a Covid-19 lockdown in Beijing. — AFP

JUDGING by the quiet streets in China’s capital Beijing and the reluctance of some businesses to drop Covid-19 curbs, enduring anxieties about the coronavirus are likely to hamper a speedy return to health for the world’s second-largest economy.

Although the government on Wednesday loosened key parts of its strict “zero-Covid” policy that has kept the pandemic largely at bay for the past three years, many people appear wary of being too quick to shake off the shackles.

In the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic erupted in late 2019, there were more signs of life with some areas busy with commuters yesterday.

However, residents say a return to normal is a long way off.

“They’ve relaxed the measures but still there’s nobody about,” said a taxi driver surnamed Wang, who didn’t want to give his full name.

“You see these roads, these streets ... they ought to be busy, full of people. But there’s no one. It’s dead out here.”

Yet China has been anything but placid during the past few weeks, with protests against Covid-19 curbs in many cities that marked the biggest show of public discontent since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago.

Little more than a month after the National Health Commission stressed commitment to its strict virus containment policy, saying it was “putting people and lives first”, authorities have changed tack and are now telling people they have less to fear.

Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, said 99% of people now infected with the virus would recover in seven to 10 days, in comments reported by the People’s Daily, controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

But there are signs the reassuring new message has still to convince many of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

With the need for tests dropped and most infected people now being allowed to isolate at home, some have embraced the new freedoms.

For others, habits formed under months of stifling lockdowns, are proving hard to break.

There were several empty seats in what should have been peak morning rush hour on the Beijing subway yesterday, even though the city this week scrapped the need to show negative tests to ride trains or enter offices.

Some downtown restaurants were deserted at lunchtime.

China’s tally of 5,235 Covid-related deaths is a tiny fraction of its population of 1.4 billion, and extremely low by global standards. Some experts have warned that toll could rise above 1.5 million if the exit is too hasty.

Manufacturers remain cautious, too, retaining Covid-19 curbs until they get a clearer picture of just how workplaces will be affected by the easing of stringent measures.

Businesses said they were expecting to have to grapple with long periods with workers off sick that could hamper operations, perhaps for months.

Analysts and business leaders expect China’s economy to rebound late next year as it follows the rocky path trodden by the rest of the world to open up and try to live with the disease. — Reuters

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Covid-19 , zero-Covid , lockdown


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