© Reuters. People wearing face masks walk under surveillance cameras on the street as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to break out in Shanghai, China, December 12, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song.
By Brenda Goh and Farah Master
SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s leaders are said to have postponed a key economic policy meeting amid growing signs that the number of COVID-19 infections is rising in the country. Beijing is almost a week after it lifted some of the world’s strictest anti-virus restrictions.
State media reported late on Tuesday that the capital’s hospitals now have 50 COVID patients classified as critical or severe among a rapidly increasing number of cases, most of whom are asymptomatic or light.
President Xi Jinping and other Politburo members and senior government officials are expected to attend the closed Central Economic Work Conference, most likely this week, to outline a policy roadmap for the struggling Chinese economy in 2023.
A report by Bloomberg News on Tuesday night, citing people familiar with the matter, said the meeting had been delayed and there was no timetable for rescheduling.
Policy insiders and business analysts said management is expected to outline next stimulus steps and in-depth discussions on anticipated growth targets during the session. three days annually.
The delay comes as authorities continue to overturn the previously resolute “no COVID” policy advocated by Mr.
The long queues outside fever clinics are a worrisome sign that the contagion wave is increasing, although the official number of new cases has declined in recent weeks as authorities restrict testing. .
And companies in China, from e-commerce giant JD (NASDAQ:).com to cosmetics brand Sephora, are rushing to mitigate the impact of the growing contagion – providing kits testing tools, encouraging more work from home and, in some cases, buying truckloads of drugs.
Signs emerge as China tries to quickly integrate with a largely reopened world, following unprecedented mass protests against strictly enforced mass blockade orders. , three years after the pandemic.
The protests are the strongest public defiance of Xi’s decades-long presidency and come amid China’s $17 trillion economy, the second largest. world, is one of the worst growth numbers in 50 years.
SO BYE MOTHER OF THE JOURNEY
The World Health Organization on Tuesday said China was facing “very difficult” times as it eliminated “COVID-free”, posing challenges in hospital preparation and ensuring Everyone is fully protected.
Despite the spread of infections, people in China have been cheering the withdrawal of a state-mandated app used to track whether they’ve traveled to COVID-affected areas. .
When authorities disabled the “journey code” app at midnight on Monday, four Chinese telecommunications companies said they would delete users’ data associated with the app.
“Goodbye cruise code, I hope to never see you again,” a post on social media platform Weibo (NASDAQ:
“The hand that stretched out to exert strength during the pandemic should now be withdrawn,” another user wrote.
And in another sign of policy easing, Chinese healthcare company 111.inc has started selling Pfizer (NYSE:) to treat COVID-19 in China through their app – the drug was previously only available in select hospitals.
It sold out just over half an hour after the listing was reported by local media, according to the platform’s customer service.
For all the relief over the government’s decision to begin lifting its COVID-free policy last week, there are concerns that China could now pay the price.
Infections are expected to spike even higher during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, when people travel across the country to be with their families, a risk to 1.4 billion people. Some lack “herd immunity” after prolonged isolation under lockdown, and there is a relatively low risk of vaccination rates among the elderly, according to some analysts.
Experts say China’s fragile healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed if those concerns materialize.
Moves made last week to relax COVID restrictions include dropping mandatory testing before many public activities and restricting quarantine.
Prominent China commentator Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said Beijing is now at the epicenter of a rapid new wave of infections but the city has enough resources to cope.
“The rate of new infections is truly amazing and I believe what we are witnessing here has to be one of the most intense rates of virus transmission in the world since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. develop,” said Hu.
Beijing’s special envoy to the United States said on Monday he believes China’s COVID-19 measures will be further eased in the near future and that international travel to the country will also become easier. easier.
China has virtually closed its borders to international travel since the pandemic began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. International flights remain low compared to pre-pandemic levels. epidemic and arrivals must be isolated for 8 days.
The Hong Kong Financial Center announced on Tuesday that transit passengers will be able to arrive in the mainland after having a negative PCR test result 48 hours before departure, instead of waiting three days in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong also announced the removal of a movement-tracking app that manages access to gyms, bars and restaurants, and the removal of a requirement for travelers to avoid bars and restaurants for three days. days after arrival.
Chinese stocks fell slightly on Tuesday as the recent rally triggered by reopening hopes gave way to contagion concerns. The yuan was little changed, but it experienced its worst year since 1994, when China unified its official and market exchange rates.