BEIJING, Jan. 2 (Portal) – Some people in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan braved the cold and a surge in COVID-19 infections to return to regular activities on Monday, raising the prospect of another economic surge from infections recover.
Among those who gathered to go sledding or skating on a frozen lake at Shichahai Lake Park in the capital, some were optimistic about the opening after China dropped strict “zero-COVID” measures on Dec. 7 to promote a strategy of living with the virus to say goodbye.
The move followed protests against policies championed by President Xi Jinping, which represented the strongest public opposition in his decade presidency and coincided with dismal growth figures for the country’s $17 trillion economy.
However, since the dismantling of the zero-COVID policy, a wave of infections has erupted across the country, raising international concerns and prompting some countries to impose restrictions on travelers from China.
“After this lockdown ends, we no longer need to scan the health code and check the travel code,” said one of the park visitors, Yang, who gave only one name.
“So we’re free now.”
Also at the lake was Zhong, a 22-year-old student who said he stayed home for two or three weeks after becoming infected.
“Now I can go out and it’s a good time for the Lunar New Year holiday,” he said. “I want to walk around Beijing, see and feel the festive spirit.”
Monday was a public holiday but traffic in the capital has picked up again in recent days as people flock to the outdoor facilities, although business is still slow in some smaller, cramped places like restaurants.
The owner of a Beijing seafood restaurant said diners had not returned to full strength.
“I expect this situation will continue until the Lunar New Year,” said Chen, giving only his last name. “I expect business to be more normal after the holidays.”
In downtown Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, people are no longer so worried, a man surnamed Wu told Portal.
“Work production, life and entertainment are returning to normal levels,” said Wu, a tutor at a private training center. Continue reading
52.7 million domestic trips were taken during the New Year holiday, up 0.44% from the same period last year and a 42.8% rise from the corresponding period in 2019, according to government data released on Monday.
JOURNEY TO THE LUNAR NEW YEAR
China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, begins Jan. 21 this year, when the rail network is expected to carry 5.5 million passengers, state broadcaster CCTV said.
As holiday travel expectations rise, authorities at Tibet’s spectacular Potala Palace said it would open to visitors from January 3, after closing last August due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
According to media reports, some hotels in the southern resort of Sanya are fully booked for the Lunar New Year.
In recent days, state media have tried to reassure the public that the COVID-19 outbreak is under control and nearing its peak.
Infections in the cities of Beijing, Guanzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing are nearing an end, Caixin news agency said on Sunday, citing researchers.
But infections will peak in the second half of January in the urban regions of Sichuan, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai, they added.
More than 80% of people living in southwestern Sichuan have been infected, the provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.
But the single new COVID death on Monday – unchanged from the previous day – among China’s population of 1.4 billion does not match the experiences of other countries after they reopened.
The official death toll of 5,250 since the pandemic began compares to more than 1 million in the United States. Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 million, has reported more than 11,000 deaths.
About 9,000 people in China are likely to die from COVID each day, health data company Airfinity said last week, while cumulative deaths since Dec. 1 are likely to have reached 100,000, with infections at 18.6 million.
Airfinity, which is based in the UK, expects China’s COVID cases to peak on January 13 with 3.7 million daily infections.
China has said it only counts deaths of COVID patients caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure as related to COVID. The relatively low number of deaths is also at odds with the increasing demand reported by funeral homes in several cities.
Qatar on Monday joined a growing list of countries including the United States, India and others that have imposed COVID tests on travelers from China over concerns about the scale of the new outbreak and skepticism about Beijing’s health statistics.
European Union government health officials will hold talks Wednesday on a coordinated response to the surge in COVID-19 infections in China, the Swedish EU presidency said Monday after talks ended in December without decisions on the matter.
Additional coverage by Beijing Newsroom and Martin Pollard; writing by Farah Master and Sumeet Chatterjee; Adaptation by Clarence Fernandez
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