Residents of Beijing and Shanghai are back at work as China moves toward coexistence with COVID

  • Life is returning to normal in Shanghai, Beijing
  • Cities across China have reported large numbers of infections
  • China reported no COVID deaths for the sixth consecutive day

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Mask-clad commuters in Beijing and Shanghai crowded subway trains on Monday as China’s two largest cities came close to living with COVID-19 even as frontline medical workers scrambled to deal with millions of new infections.

After three years of harsh restrictions against the coronavirus, Chinese President Xi Jinping canceled the policy of lockdown and continuous testing on December 7 in the face of public protests and the outbreak.

“The prevention and control of the novel coronavirus in our country faces new situations and new tasks,” Xi said Monday in remarks on public health, in his first hints at China’s recent shift in policy.

The virus is now spreading largely unchecked across the country of 1.4 billion people, with skepticism mounting among health experts and residents about Beijing’s statistics, which show no new COVID deaths were reported in the six days through Sunday.

Doctors say hospitals are swarming with five to six times the usual number of patients, most of them elderly.

Xinhua also quoted Premier Li Keqiang in its report as saying that all levels of government should step up efforts to ensure that demand for medical treatment and supplies is met.

“I am ready to live with the epidemic,” said Lin Zixin, a 25-year-old Shanghai resident. “Lockdowns are not a long-term solution.”

This year, in a bid to prevent infections spiraling out of control across the country, 25 million people in Shanghai – China’s commercial hub – endured two months of bitter isolation under a lockdown that lasted until June 1.

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The vibrant streets of Shanghai on Monday contrasted sharply with the atmosphere in April and May when almost no one was going outside.

Held in the Bund business district in Shanghai, the annual Christmas market was popular with the city’s residents during the weekends. Crowds packed into the winter holiday season at Shanghai Disneyland and Universal Studios in Beijing on Sunday, lining up for rides in Christmas-themed outfits.

The number of trips to scenic spots in the southern city of Guangzhou this weekend was up 132% from last weekend, local newspaper 21st Century Business Herald reported.

“Now everyone is basically back to normal routine,” said a 29-year-old Beijing resident who surnamed Han.

China is the latest major country to move towards treating COVID as an endemic disease, as it has lifted lockdowns and almost all other restrictions on daily life. Containment measures have slowed the $17 trillion economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, disrupting supply chains and global trade.

The world’s second-largest economy is expected to suffer more in the short term, as the COVID wave spreads toward manufacturing regions and infects the workforce, before recovering next year, analysts say.

Tesla suspended production at its Shanghai factory on Saturday, and introduced a plan to shut down most work at the factory in the last week of December. The company gave no reason.

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The world’s most populous country has narrowed its definition of classifying deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving COVID-related pneumonia or respiratory failure, surprising the world’s health experts.

The country’s health care system is under enormous strain, with staff being asked to work while rehiring sick and retired medical workers in rural communities to help out, according to state media.

“The hospital is overwhelmed from top to bottom,” said Howard Bernstein, a physician at the privately owned Beijing United Family Hospital.

The government of Zhejiang, a large industrial province near Shanghai with a population of 65.4 million, said on Sunday it was battling about 1 million new COVID-19 infections a day, a number that is expected to double in the coming days.

Health authorities in southeastern Jiangxi Province said infections will peak in early January, state media reported, adding that there could be further spikes as people travel next month to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

They warned that the wave of infections would last three months and that about 80% of the province’s 45 million residents could contract the virus.

The city of Qingdao in the eastern province of Shandong has estimated that up to 530,000 residents become infected each day.

Cities across China are racing to add intensive care units and fever clinics, facilities designed to prevent infectious diseases from spreading widely in hospitals.

The Beijing municipal government said the number of fever clinics in the capital had risen from 94 to nearly 1,300, state media reported. Shanghai has 2,600 such clinics and has flown in doctors from less stressed medical departments to help.

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There remain concerns about the ability of China’s less affluent cities to cope with a surge in severe infections, especially as hundreds of millions of migrant rural workers are expected to return to their families in the Lunar New Year.

“I am worried that the influx of people will be massive… (and) the epidemic will spread again,” said Lin, who is based in Shanghai.

reporting by the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Written by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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