Beijing Swings From Anger Over Zero-COVID to Coping With Infections

Beijing Swings From Anger Over Zero-COVID to Coping With Infections
People ride on a subway during evening rush hour, after the Chinese regime loosened COVID-19 restrictions, in Beijing on Dec. 9, 2022. (Ryan Woo/Reuters)

BEIJING—An expert warned of many thousands of new COVID-19 cases in Beijing on Dec. 11 as anger over China’s previous COVID-19 policies gave way to worry about coping with infection.

The Chinese communist regime dropped most of its strict COVID-19 curbs on Dec. 7 after unprecedented protests against them last month, but cities that were already battling with their most severe outbreaks, such as Beijing, saw a sharp decrease in economic activity after rules such as regular testing were scrapped.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many businesses have been forced to close as infected workers quarantine at home, while many other people are deciding to not go out because of the higher risk of infection.

Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, told state media outlets that the Omicron strain of the virus prevalent in China was highly transmissible and that one infected person could spread it to as many as 18 others.

“We can see that hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people are infected in several major cities,” Zhong said.

With regular COVID-19 testing of Beijing residents scrapped and reserved only for groups such as health workers, official tallies for new cases have plunged.

Health authorities reported 1,661 new infections in Beijing on Dec. 10, down by 42 percent from 3,974 on Dec. 6, a day before national policies were dramatically relaxed.

But evidence suggests that there are many more cases in the city of nearly 22 million people.

“In my company, the number of people who are COVID-negative is close to zero,” said one woman who works for a tourism and events firm in Beijing who asked to be identified as just Nancy.

“We realize this can’t be avoided—everyone will just have to work from home.”

The actual number of COVID-19 cases may be much higher. China’s COVID-19 data is difficult to verify, as the Chinese regime routinely suppresses or alters information.

People line up at the fever clinic of a hospital as COVID-19 outbreaks continue in Beijing on Dec. 9, 2022. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
People line up at the fever clinic of a hospital as COVID-19 outbreaks continue in Beijing on Dec. 9, 2022. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

‘Higher Risk’

Sunday is a normal business day for shops in Beijing and it’s usually bustling, particularly in spots such as the historic Shichahai neighborhood packed with boutiques and cafes.

But few people were out and about on Dec. 11, and malls in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous district, were practically deserted with many salons, restaurants, and retailers shut.

Economists widely expect China’s road to economic health to be uneven as shocks such as labor crunches due to workers calling in sick delay a full-fledged recovery for some time yet.

“The transition out of zero-COVID will eventually allow consumer spending patterns to return to normal, but a higher risk of infection will keep in-person spending depressed for months after reopening,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note.

While the Chinese regime has removed most of its domestic COVID-19 curbs, its international borders are still largely closed to foreigners, including tourists.

Inbound travelers are subjected to five days of quarantine at centralized facilities and three additional days of self-monitoring at home.

But there are even hints that this rule could change.

Staff at the main international airport in Chengdu city, when asked if quarantine rules were being eased, said that as of Dec. 10, whether or not one needed to do the three days of home quarantine would depend on a person’s neighborhood authorities.