Beijing and other major cities in China reported record numbers of COVID-19 infections on Monday, putting more pressure on authorities to quickly quell outbreaks while trying to reduce the impact on people’s lives and economic activity.
Nationwide, the National Health Commission reported 16,072 new locally transmitted cases, up from 14,761 on Sunday and China’s highest since April 25, when Shanghai was battling its worst outbreak.
Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Zhengzhou recorded their worst day so far, although in the case of the capital the count was a few hundred cases, while the other cities counted in the thousands.
The caseload is very small compared to the levels of infection found in other countries, but China’s insistence on stamping out outbreaks as soon as they arise under its zero-covid policy has increased the impact on communities and the economy.
On Friday, the National Health Commission updated its COVID rules in the most significant relaxation yet, describing the changes as an “optimization” of its measures to soften the impact on people’s lives.
While people, neighborhoods and public spaces could still be subject to lockdowns to prevent the spread of outbreaks, the commission relaxed some measures, including reducing quarantine time for close contacts.
Secondary close contacts are no longer identified or isolated, a major drawback for people caught up in contact tracing efforts when a case is found.
Areas considered at risk of wider outbreaks are now classified as ‘high’ and ‘low’, with a ‘medium’ category removed to minimize the number of people caught up in control measures.
Despite the loosening of pavements, many experts say the measures are incremental, with some predicting China is unlikely to begin reopening until after the March parliament session at the earliest.
“Currently, cases of COVID are increasing in major cities such as Guangzhou and Chongqing, and the policy of zero COVID continues, suggesting downside risks to the near-term growth outlook,” analysts at US investment bank Goldman Sachs said in a note note on Monday .
According to Goldman Sachs, “the government is likely to initiate China’s final exit from more than three years of zero-Covid policy” after the March parliamentary sessions, assuming all medical and communication preparations are made.
Consumer staples stocks remained subdued on Monday, while tourism and transportation stocks fell as domestic COVID cases rose and some investors took profits on earlier bets on easing COVID.
Beijing reported 407 cases on Monday, up from 235 the previous day.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, new locally transmitted cases hit a new high of 4,065, up from 3,653 the previous day.
The main manufacturing hub of Zhengzhou in central China reported 2,981 new infections, up from 2,642 a day earlier.
Chongqing, a southwestern city of more than 32 million people, also saw a jump in cases to 2,297 from 1,820 the previous day.
© Thomson Reuters 2022.