China's COVID cases increased significantly on Tuesday, notably in the country's capital, Beijing, even though routine testing in many locations was scaled back after officials announced measures last week to lessen the impact of the country's severe coronavirus restrictions.
China is attempting to reduce the harm of its zero-COVID policy nearly three years into the pandemic, as the latest in a string of poor economic figures revealed a decline in retail sales in October and a sluggish increase in industry output.
After the announcement on Friday that parts of the severe COVID measures would be reduced, many locals voiced cautious hope. However, this week concerns mounted over the escalating outbreaks, and there was confusion as several localities paused or changed regular testing.
In Guangzhou, a city of over 19 million people in the south, the number of new infections surpassed 5,000 for the first time, fueling rumors that district-level lockdowns may expand.
"The infection curve of Guangzhou is following the speed of Shanghai's March-April outbreak," JPMorgan analysts wrote, referring to this year's two-month shutdown in Shanghai.
"It would serve as a litmus test for the government's resolve to advocate for the easing of COVID control measures," they stated.
China reported 17,772 new local COVID-19 infections on November 14, up from 16,072 the previous day and the most since April, with Chongqing and Zhengzhou among the worst-affected cities.
JPMorgan estimates that cities with more than 10 new cumulative cases in the preceding week are home to 780 million people and account for 62.2% of the world's gross domestic product, which is approximately treble the levels observed at the end of September.
Monday, the most populous district of Beijing, Chaoyang, where the majority of cases are situated, relocated some testing stations closer to residential areas.
While this raised the total number of sites, it also led to long wait times in many situations, which fueled frustration, as many companies and other venues continue to require negative test results within 24 hours.
A hashtag on the Twitter-like platform Weibo was inundated with negative comments on Monday evening before being censored: "What are working people expected to do?" one Weibo user remarked. Someone else inquired, "What type of mind devised this policy?"
State broadcaster CCTV said on Tuesday that Chaoyang district was adding additional testing locations, including those near office buildings.
Beijing recorded 462 new cases of illness on Monday, up from 407 the previous day.
Under China's new regulations, testing efforts will be more targeted, reducing the considerable financial burden that testing has placed on localities.
'Why is our building shut?'
Friday's easing news spurred a rise in equities on optimism that China is signaling plans to reverse a policy that has effectively closed its borders and caused regular lockdowns, possibly after March's parliamentary session.
Due to low levels of herd immunity caused by China's seclusion during the pandemic, however, scientists warn that full reopening will necessitate a large vaccination effort. It will also necessitate a shift in message, they argue, in a nation where COVID infection is widely feared.
The Shanghai Disney Resort has been closed since October 31 after a visitor tested positive for COVID.
While the federal government has encouraged a more flexible approach to prevent epidemics, local governments still have broad discretion to lock down high-risk buildings.
"The rules are quite obvious; thus, why is our building closed?" Monday morning, the building of a Shanghai retiree was sealed off with tape after a "close contact" was removed and quarantined.
The northern city of Shijiazhuang, which reported more than 500 infections on Sunday, has ceased citywide testing and is no longer reviewing test results for accessing public transportation, according to state-backed media site Jiemien. However, travelers must still scan in using a mobile phone app.
Guangchang county in the eastern province of Jiangxi canceled community testing scheduled for the 13th and 14th of November after tests conducted from November 8-10 were negative.