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NEWS China’s big cities start letting go of Covid while rural areas brace for infection

According to Wind data, subway passenger traffic in Shanghai is rapidly returning to levels seen before the latest wave of the epidemic. The picture shows a subway car in the city on January 4, 2023.

Hu Guo | Getty Images News | Getty Images

BEIJING — Depending on how quickly people return to the streets, China may be able to tolerate Covid-19 by the end of March, according to Larry Hu, chief China economist at Macquarie.

He pointed to subway and road data showing that traffic in major cities is rebounding, suggesting that the worst of the latest wave of infections is behind us.

“China’s Covid policy has changed dramatically since mid-November, implying a deeper short-term economic contraction but faster reopening and recovery,” Hu said in a note Wednesday. There’s been a strong recovery.”

In the past few days, the southern city of Guangzhou and the tourist resort of Sanya have said they have passed the peak of the Covid wave.

Chongqing’s health authority said on Tuesday that the number of daily visitors to the main fever clinics was just over 3,000, a sharp drop from Dec. 16, when the number of patients received more than 30,000. The provincial area has a population of about 32 million.

Chongqing was the most congested city in mainland China during the Thursday morning rush hour, according to traffic data from Baidu. Traffic in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other major cities has increased from a week ago, the data showed.

As of Wednesday, subway ridership in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou had climbed sharply from lows in the past few weeks, but had only recovered to about two-thirds of last year’s levels, according to Wind Info.

Caixin’s monthly survey of the service sector in December found that their optimism was the most optimistic in about a year and a half, according to a release on Thursday. The seasonally adjusted index of business activity rose to 48 in December from a six-month low of 46.7 in November.

A reading below 50 still indicates that business activity is contracting. Another Caixin survey of manufacturers edged down to 49 in December from 49.4 in November. Their optimism was the highest in ten months.

Poorer rural areas follow

Shanghai medical researchers predicted in a study that by the end of 2022, the latest wave of Covid will hit major Chinese cities, while rural areas — and more remote provinces in central and western China — will be infected by mid-to-late January.

“Extensive travel during Chinese New Year (January 21, 2023) could significantly increase the duration and size of an impending outbreak,” researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Health in late December. Say. educate.

Hundreds of millions of people typically travel during the holiday, also known as Lunar New Year.

Elderly people in remote areas of China, especially those with underlying health conditions, are at greater risk of severe illness from a highly contagious omicron variant, researchers say. The authors are particularly concerned about the lack of medicines and intensive care units in rural areas.

Even before the pandemic, China’s public health system was stretched thin. People from all over the country often travel to overcrowded hospitals in the capital, Beijing, for better medical care than they can get back home.

Louise Loo, senior economist at Oxford Economics, remains cautious about China’s rapid rebound.

“Normalization of economic activity will take some time and, among other things, a change in public perception about the effectiveness of Covid-19 infections and vaccines will be required,” Loo said in a note on Wednesday.

The firm expects China’s GDP to grow by 4.2% in 2023.

Lingering long-term risks

The medical researchers also warned that the mainland’s omicron outbreak “could be multi-wave,” with a possible surge of new infections by the end of 2023. “The importance of regular monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 substrains and variants circulating in China cannot be overestimated in the years to come.”

However, lacking timely information, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday that it was asking China to “provide more rapid, regular, and reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time sequencing of the virus.”

China abruptly ended many of the strict Covid controls that restricted business and social activity in early December. On Sunday, China will formally lift quarantine requirements for incoming travelers while restoring the ability for Chinese citizens to travel abroad for leisure. The country has imposed strict border controls since March 2020 in an attempt to contain Covid domestically.

Why China shows no signs of abandoning its 'zero-coronavirus' strategy

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