Beijing closes parks, museums as COVID cases rise in China

BEIJING, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Beijing closed parks, shopping malls and museums on Tuesday as more Chinese cities resumed mass COVID-19 testing as China battles a surge in cases, raising concerns about its economy and lowers hopes for a speedy release. -coronavirus reopening.

China reported 28,127 new local cases nationwide on Monday, nearing its daily peak since April, with infections in the southern city of Guangzhou and the southwestern municipality of Chongqing accounting for about half of the total.

In the capital Beijing, cases are reaching new highs each day, prompting calls from the city government for more residents to stay.

Health officials attributed two new deaths to COVID-19, up from three over the weekend, which were the first in China since May.

The latest wave is testing recent adjustments China has made to its zero-COVID policy, which calls on authorities to be more specific in their crackdowns and to move away from the widespread lockdowns and tests that have strangled the economy and frustrated residents.

The Tianjin municipality near Beijing became the latest to order citywide tests on Tuesday, following a similar announcement on Sunday by Shijiazhuang.

Even after the modified guidelines, China remains a global outlier with its strict COVID restrictions, including borders that remain nearly closed nearly three years into the pandemic.

The tightening of measures in Beijing and other cities, even as China tries to avoid city-wide lockdowns like the one that brought Shanghai to a standstill this year, has renewed investor concerns about the economy and sent global stocks and markets down. Oil prices drop overnight.

Nomura analysts said on Tuesday that their internal index estimated that towns accounting for about 19.9% ​​of China’s total gross domestic product were under some form of lockdown or restrictions, up from 15.6% last Monday and not. far from the peak of the index in April. during the Shanghai lockdown.

LOCALIZED BLOCKAGES

The Chinese capital warned on Monday that it faces its most severe test of the COVID-19 pandemic and tightened rules for entering the city, requiring arrivals from other parts of China to undergo three days of COVID tests before they are allowed to enter the city. are allowed to leave their accommodation.

Many Beijing residents have seen their buildings shut down, though those restrictions often last only a few days.

Some city residents said they had experienced delays in grocery deliveries due to high volumes.

Many museums were closed and places including the Happy Valley amusement park and the city’s vast Chaoyang Park, a popular spot for joggers and hikers, said Tuesday they would close due to the outbreak. Beijing reported 1,438 new local cases, up from 962 on Sunday.

The central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered, issued a notice on Tuesday urging its residents to travel only between home and work.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who spearheaded China’s zero-COVID policy, visited Chongqing on Monday and urged local authorities to adhere to the measures and control the outbreak, the municipality said.

NOT SO PINK

Investors had hoped that China’s more targeted application of zero-COVID restrictions could herald more significant easing, but many analysts caution against being too optimistic.

Many businesses, especially customer-facing ones, also fear they won’t survive into the next year as customers continue to hold on to their cash.

China argues that President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy saves lives and is necessary to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.

Many experts warn that a full reopening requires a massive vaccination booster effort and a change in messaging in a country where the disease remains widely feared. Authorities say they plan to build more hospital capacity and fever clinics to test patients, and are formulating a vaccination campaign.

“The real picture may not be as rosy as it seems,” the Nomura analysts wrote, saying they only expected the reopening to accelerate after March next year, when China’s top leadership shakeup is complete.

“The reopening could go back and forth, as policymakers may back off after noting a rapid rise in cases and social disruption. As such, local officials may be even more reluctant to be first movers when trying to probe Beijing’s true intentions,” Nomura wrote. .

Reporting from Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms; Written by Brenda Goh; Edited by Tony Munroe, Miral Fahmy and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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