Beijing closes parks and museums as COVID cases rise in China

BEIJING, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Beijing closed parks, malls and museums on Tuesday as more Chinese cities resume massive testing for COVID-19 as China battles a spike in cases, raising concerns about its economy and raising hopes for a speedy recovery. post is tempered -coronavirus reopening.

China reported 28,127 new local cases nationally on Monday, approaching its daily peak from 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, things are hitting new highs every day, prompting calls from the city government for more residents to stay.

There were two new deaths attributed to COVID-19 by health officials, compared to three over the weekend, the first in China since May.

The latest wave tests recent adjustments China has made to its zero-COVID policy, which asks authorities to be more focused in their suppression measures and steer clear of the widespread lockdowns and testing that have strangled the economy and devastated residents. frustrated.

The Tianjin municipality, near Beijing, became the latest to order city-wide testing on Tuesday, following a similar announcement on Sunday by Shijiazhuang.

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

Tighter measures in Beijing and other cities, even as China tries to avoid city-wide lockdowns, such as the one that crippled Shanghai this year, have renewed investor concerns about the economy and caused global stocks and oil prices to swing from one to the next. day have decreased.

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

LOCALIZED CLOSURES

The Chinese capital warned on Monday it is facing the toughest test of the COVID-19 pandemic and tightened rules for entering the city, requiring arrivals from elsewhere in China to undergo three days of COVID testing before being allowed to leave their accommodation.

Numerous Beijing residents have seen their buildings locked down, though those restrictions often only last for a few days.

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

Many museums were closed, and venues such as the Happy Valley theme park and the city’s sprawling Chaoyang Park, a popular spot for runners and picnickers, said on Tuesday they would close because of 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 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 authorities there to comply with measures and bring the outbreak under control, the municipality said.

NOT SO ROSE

Investors had hoped China’s more focused enforcement of zero-COVID restrictions could herald greater easing, but many analysts are warning against being overly optimistic.

Many companies, especially customer-facing companies, also fear that they will not survive until next year as customers continue to hold on to their money.

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

Many experts warn that full reopening will require a massive vaccination booster and a change in messaging in a country where the disease is still widely feared. Authorities say they plan to build more hospital capacity and fever clinics to screen patients, and formulate a vaccination campaign.

“The real picture may not be as rosy as it appears,” wrote Nomura analysts, who said they only expect a reopening to accelerate beyond March next year, when China’s top leadership reshuffle is complete.

“Reopening may go back and forth as policymakers may backtrack after observing a rapid increase in cases and social disruptions. As such, local officials may be even more reluctant to be the first movers when they try to explain Beijing’s true intentions. to fathom,” wrote Nomura. .

Beijing and Shanghai newsroom reporting; Written by Brenda Goh; Edited by Tony Munroe, Miral Fahmy and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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