China to loosen COVID-19 restrictions as markets cheer shift

People wear personal protective equipment (PPE) along a street in Beijing on December 5, 2022. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP)

China is expected to announce a further reduction of some of the world's strictest COVID restrictions as early as Wednesday, according to sources, as investors applaud the potential of a policy shift in the wake of huge protests and rising economic harm.

Three years into the pandemic, China's zero-tolerance policies, including closed borders and periodic lockdowns, stand in stark contrast to the rest of the globe, which has decided to live with the virus.

The rigorous approach has harmed the world's second-largest economy, put a mental strain on hundreds of millions, and sparked the worst public display of dissent in mainland China since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012.

Regional authorities have since reduced lockdowns, quarantine laws, and testing procedures to varying degrees, even though last month's rallies in major cities mainly faded amidst a significant police presence. Top officials have also toned down their warnings about the virus's dangers.

On Monday night, Shanghai's financial center declared that beginning Tuesday, COVID testing would no longer be required to enter most public venues.

Two sources with knowledge of the situation told Reuters that a new set of statewide guidelines will be announced soon, paving the way for more coordinated easing.

Sources noted that Beijing is contemplating whether to cut back its handling of the virus to reflect the lesser threat it poses as early as January.

Analysts now think that China may relax border controls and reopen the economy earlier than anticipated next year, with some predicting a full reopening in the spring.

"Although we are hopeful, we caution that the path to reopening may be slow, painful, and rocky," wrote Nomura's senior China economist Ting Lu in a Monday research note, adding that China did not appear to be well prepared for a big wave of infections.

Feng Zijian, a former deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Paper that mild and asymptomatic cases should be quarantined at home due to an increase in infections straining China's medical infrastructure.

Those who have not completed their basic immunizations or had their booster doses should do so as soon as feasible, especially the elderly and fragile, Feng said in an interview with a Shanghai government-supported news site.

However, the inconsistent easing over the past week has caused some Chinese citizens to fear being on the wrong side of rapidly changing restrictions.

Yin, a resident of a tiny community near Beijing, reported that her in-laws had a fever and she had a sore throat, but they refused to be tested for fear of being placed under official quarantine.

She told Reuters under the condition of anonymity, "All we want is to recuperate at home."

During a wide market surge, the yuan reached its highest level versus the dollar since mid-September, as investors hoped that the removal of pandemic restrictions would improve the prospects for global economic growth.

A Foxconn source told Reuters that the company expects its COVID-affected Zhengzhou plant - the world's largest iPhone manufacturer - to restart full production this month or early next.

In November, economic data revealed the extent of the harm caused by the restrictions, as services activity dropped to six-month lows.

Changing message

Last Monday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who leads China's COVID operations, stated that the virus's potential to cause disease was waning, which corresponded with the lessening in various cities.

This change in messaging is consistent with the position held by numerous health professionals worldwide for over a year.

In recent days, major Chinese cities have continued to relax restrictions.

Among these, the eastern city of Nanjing eliminated the COVID test requirement for public transportation. However, many offices in the capital city still require negative tests for admittance.

Randle Li, a 25-year-old marketing professional in Beijing, stated, "I haven't noticed a significant change yet." Li stated that his company still required him to pass a daily test to enter the office.

Elsewhere, as testing standards have been relaxed, the number of newly reported cases has also decreased.

Hu Xijin, a famous commentator and former editor-in-chief of the state-run tabloid Global Times, stated in a blog that some official statistics likely underreported the spread of the virus due to a decrease in testing rates.

While protests have subsided, frustration can still boil over, as this weekend's events in Wuhan, the central city where the virus first appeared in late 2019 shown.

Saturday, individuals knocked down fences in an apparent attempt to escape a lockdown at a garment industrial park, as evidenced by Twitter video clips.

Other recordings showed that on Sunday, scores of students stood in the rain in front of a university in the city, demanding greater "transparency" in COVID regulations.

Reuters was able to confirm that the events took place in Wuhan.

Publish : 2022-12-05 19:29:00

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