COVID cases rise in China, Beijing tightens entry rules

  • Three weekend deaths in Beijing, the first since May
  • Guangzhou orders five-day closure of its Baiyun district
  • China nationwide reported 26,824 new local cases
  • Arrivals in Beijing must take three days of testing

BEIJING, Nov 21 (Reuters) – China’s capital warned on Monday that it was facing its most severe test of the COVID-19 pandemic, closing businesses and schools in the hardest-hit districts and tightening rules for entering the city as infections were rising in Beijing. and at the national level.

China is battling numerous outbreaks of COVID-19, from Zhengzhou in the central Henan province to Chongqing in the southwest. It reported 26,824 new local cases for Sunday, approaching the country’s daily infection peak in April.

It also recorded two deaths in Beijing, down from one on Saturday, which was China’s first since late May.

Guangzhou, a southern city of nearly 19 million that is battling the biggest of China’s recent outbreaks, ordered a five-day lockdown for Baiyun, its most populous district. It also suspended dinning services and closed nightclubs and theaters in the city’s main business district.

The latest wave is testing China’s resolve to stick with the adjustments it has made to its zero-COVID policy, which calls for cities to be more targeted in their crackdowns and move away from the widespread lockdowns and tests that have strangled the economy and frustrated residents.

Asian stock markets and oil prices fell on Monday amid investor concern over the economic fallout from the escalating COVID situation in China, with risk aversion benefiting bonds and the dollar.

Beijing reported 962 new infections on Sunday, up from 621 the day before, and another 316 cases during the first 15 hours of Monday.

City authorities said people arriving in the capital from anywhere else in China will have to undergo three days of COVID tests before being allowed to leave their homes or accommodation.

“The city is facing its most complex and serious prevention and control situation since the coronavirus outbreak,” Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a press briefing.

‘YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE’

Residents of Beijing’s sprawling Chaoyang district, home to 3.5 million people as well as embassies and office complexes, were urged to stay home, with schools online.

The streets were unusually quiet, and the shops in the district, other than those that sell groceries, seemed mostly closed.

The restaurants were empty except for a staff member or two huddled at the entrances around small tables displaying “takeout only” signs.

“You can’t go anywhere. Everything is closed. Customers can’t come either. What can you do? You can’t do anything,” said Jia Xi, 32, a salesman in the medical industry.

Staff at building entrances carried out strict checks on mobile phone health apps with the command now familiar to all Beijingers: “Scan the code!”

SHIFT OF FOCUS

Several Chinese cities began phasing out routine community testing for COVID-19 last week, including the northern city of Shijiazhuang, which has become the subject of fervent speculation that it could be a testing ground for policy easing.

But late on Sunday, Shijiazhuang announced it would conduct mass testing in six of its eight districts over the next five days after daily new local cases hit 641. It also encouraged residents to shop online and ordered some schools to suspend face-to-face teaching.

“They lasted for a week,” said a popular comment on Weibo about the sidewalks of Shijiazhuang, which was one of the most viewed topics on the social media platform.

The People’s Daily newspaper, the official organ of China’s ruling Communist Party, published an article on Monday reiterating the need to detect infections early, but to avoid taking a “one size fits all” approach, its eighth article in this rate since China announced its 20 adjusted measures on November 11.

HOPES AND WARNINGS

China’s recent efforts to make its COVID-19 restrictions more targeted have raised investor hopes for a more meaningful relaxation, even as China faces its first winter fighting the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

However, many analysts expect such a change to begin only in March or April, with the government arguing that President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy saves lives and is necessary to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.

Experts argue 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.

Oxford Economics said it only expects a zero-COVID exit in the second half of 2023, with vaccination rates for the elderly still comparatively low.

“From an epidemiological and political perspective, we do not believe that the country is ready to open up yet,” it said in a report on Monday.

Reporting from Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Written by Brenda Goh; Edited by Tony Munroe, Lincoln Feast, and Mike Harrison

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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