Residents of Beijing and Shanghai return to work as China limps to life with COVID

  • Life is returning to normal in Shanghai, Beijing
  • Cities in China are reporting high numbers of infections
  • China reports no COVID deaths for 6th straight day

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 26 (Reuters) – Mask-wearing commuters in Beijing and Shanghai packed subway trains on Monday as China’s two biggest cities grappled with life with COVID-19, even as medical workers on the front lines trying to cope with millions of new infections.

After three years of strict anti-coronavirus restrictions, President Xi Jinping reversed China’s lockdown policy and relentless zero-covid testing on December 7 in the face of public protests and a widening epidemic.

“The prevention and control of the novel coronavirus epidemic in our country faces new situations and new tasks,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying on Monday in remarks on public health, marking one of his first mentions of China’s recent policy shift. .

The virus is now spreading largely unchecked in the country of 1.4 billion people, raising doubts among health experts and residents about Beijing’s statistics showing no new deaths from COVID in the six days to Sunday.

Doctors say hospitals are overloaded with five to six times more patients than usual, mostly elderly people.

All levels of government should further strengthen their efforts to ensure that the demand for medical treatment and supplies is met, Premier Li Keqiang was also quoted as saying by Xinhua in its report.

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

This year, in an effort to prevent infections from getting out of control across the country, the 25 million people in Shanghai, China’s commercial hub, endured two months of brutal isolation under lockdown that lasted until June 1.

The busy streets of Shanghai on Monday were in stark contrast to the atmosphere in April and May, when almost no one went outside.

An annual Christmas market held in the Bund, a shopping district in Shanghai, was popular with the city’s residents over the weekend. Crowds thronged the winter holiday season at Shanghai Disneyland and Beijing Universal Studios on Sunday, lining up for rides in Christmas-themed costumes.

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

“Now, everyone has basically returned to their normal daily lives,” said a 29-year-old Beijing resident surnamed Han.

China is the latest major country to move toward treating COVID as endemic, lifting lockdowns and nearly all other restrictions on daily life. His containment measures have slowed the $17 trillion economy to its slowest growth rate in nearly half a century, disrupting global supply chains and trade.

The world’s second-largest economy is expected to suffer further in the near term as the wave of COVID spreads to manufacturing areas and the workforce falls ill before recovering next year, analysts say.

Tesla discontinued production at its Shanghai factory on Saturday, moving ahead with a plan to shut down most work at the plant in the last week of December. The company did not give a reason.


The most populous country in the world narrowed its own definition to classify deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving COVID-related pneumonia or respiratory failure, raising eyebrows among global health experts.

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

“The hospital is just overwhelmed from top to bottom,” said Dr. Howard Bernstein of the private 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 dealing with about one million new COVID-19 infections a day, with the number expected to double in the coming days.

Health authorities in the southeastern province of Jiangxi said infections would peak in early January, adding that there could be other spikes as people travel next month for Lunar New Year celebrations, state media reported.

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

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

Cities in China are racing to add intensive care units and fever clinics, facilities designed to prevent the contagious disease from spreading more widely in hospitals.

Beijing’s municipal government said the number of fever clinics in the capital had increased from 94 to nearly 1,300, state media reported. Shanghai has 2,600 such clinics and has transferred doctors from less busy medical departments to help.

Concerns remain 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 for the Lunar New Year.

“I am worried that the flow of people will be huge… (and) the epidemic will break out again,” said Lin, a resident of Shanghai.

Reporting from the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Written by Marius Zacharias; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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