Following an increase in Covid-19 cases, Beijing streets are deserted, and retail malls are secluded.
The surge in cases in Beijing is the country’s first substantial uptick since the pandemic struck more than two years ago. Restaurants and stores, for example, were deserted in Sanlitun’s commercial district.
Furthermore, other restaurants solely sold takeaway and had a restricted number of employees. In an ironic twist, numerous health professionals relate the spike to the country’s Covid-19 program, which the public has heavily criticized for several weeks.
As the number of Covid-19 cases increased, several businesses exhibited symptoms of slowing down. Some employees refused to work because they were sick. In addition, many customers stayed at home because of the concern about getting Covid-19. According to a source, Covid-19 has been detected in 21 of the 24 Beijing agencies entrusted with residential monitoring activity.
“As our superiors are mostly infected, there’s not much work given to us. (The usual) events, lectures, performances, and parent-child activities will not be held,” said the source.
Beijing had only a few instances a few weeks ago. However, there have been several unusual cases reported in recent weeks. The massive number of Covid-19 cases is the first large-scale outbreak since Wuhan in 2020.
However, officials have little statistical data to chart the virus’s spread. Furthermore, unlike in the past, China has pulled down on mandatory and extensive Covid-19 testing across cities, making it difficult to quantify the actual number of positive cases across many locations.
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Counting the Covid-19 infected citizens
The Chinese National Health Commission stated that they could not correctly count the country’s total number of afflicted people. For example, the NHC said that it will exclude asymptomatic people from the census. Authorities discovered 2,249 symptomatic Covid-19 cases this week. 20% of these were identified in the nation’s capital.
“Many asymptomatic patients no longer participate in nucleic acid testing. As a result, it is impossible to grasp the actual number of asymptomatic infections accurately,” said the NHC.
“It’s deeply frustrating. Businesses have to close due to sick staff, even though they can legally be open. Blame is starting to flow from companies’ [foreign] headquarters to the team on the ground in China, with HQ asking, ‘Why can’t the China operations navigate these restrictions?’ All other markets have had to adjust and did so successfully,” said Noah Fraser, a managing director based in Beijing.
“It feels quite bizarre, actually. They’ve gone from 100 to zero, it seems. However, I think people are [still] concerned about catching Covid as there are fewer people out than normal, I’ve observed,” added a resident from Guangzhou.
“Some obviously miserable. Many nursing kids/parents are at home. Our’ work at home policy is now ‘work at home if you’re well enough.’ This thing came on like a runaway freight train,” explained James Zimmerman, a lawyer in Beijing.
Protesting the Covid-19 policy
China’s population opposed the tight Covid-19 lockdowns a few weeks ago. As a result, the authorities relaxed the lockdown rules in numerous places around China. People celebrated in part because of the development. On the other hand, Chinese officials remained tight and imposed more limitations.
“I feel like everyone’s hard work is paying off,” said one protester.
“In our view, ending the pandemic [measures] as soon as possible is the key to the recovery in credit demand and economic growth,” said an analyst from Nomura.
“For China’s official institutions, there are no easy paths. Accelerating reopening plans when new Covid cases are rising is unlikely, given the low vaccination coverage of the elderly. But, on the other hand, mass protests would deeply tilt the scales in favor of an even weaker economy and likely be accompanied by a massive surge in Covid cases, leaving policymakers with a considerable dilemma,” added SPI Asset Management’s Innes.
“It appears that moving away from zero-Covid is pretty much a decentralized process in China: while some localities are easing restrictions, some allegedly still cling to zero-Covid, and still others are waiting and watching,” said Yanzhing Huang, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“There will be no compensations, no apologies, no discovery of the truth, just moving on. What can lock us down can also easily unlock us. How terrifying is this capricious power, and when will it overturn your life again? I don’t celebrate. I just remember those brave friends with gratitude,” said a resident in a video posted on Weibo.
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A problem for the healthcare system
Nonetheless, the increased number of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospitals would pressure the country’s healthcare system. Beijing officials advise individuals not to visit hospitals with mild or slight symptoms. Despite this, approximately 19,000 people brought to hospitals had flu-like symptoms within six days.
“The current strains will spread faster in China than they have spread in other parts of the world. Because those other parts of the world have some immunity against infection from previous waves of earlier Omicron strains,” said Ben Cowling, an epidemiology professor from the University of Hong Kong.
“At present, the number of newly infected people in Beijing is increasing rapidly, but most of them are asymptomatic and mild cases,” said Sun Chunlan, a top Chinese official directed to manage Covid-19 in the country.
Photo Credit: Qilai Shen for New York Times