Some residents of China’s major cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, braved the cold and a spike in COVID-19 infections to resume normal activity on Monday, hoping to boost the economy as more people recover from infections.
Among those who gathered to sled or ice skate on a frozen lake in the capital’s Lake Shichahai park were some optimists about opening, after China abandoned strict “zero contagion” measures on Dec. 7 to adopt a strategy of coexistence with the coronavirus.
However, a wave of infections has since erupted across the country, after borders remained virtually closed for three years amid a strict regime of lockdowns and relentless testing.
“After the end of this lockdown, we no longer have to scan the health code or check the travel code,” said Yang, one of those present at the park, who gave only one name.
“So we’re free.”
Also at the lake was Zhong, a 22-year-old college student, who said he had stayed home for two or three weeks after becoming infected.
“Now I can go out and it’s a good time for the New Year holidays,” he added. “I want to take a walk around Beijing, take a look and feel the festive atmosphere.”
Monday was a public holiday, but traffic in the capital has picked up again in recent days as people flock to outdoor venues, though commerce remains sluggish in some smaller, enclosed places, such as restaurants.
The owner of a Beijing seafood restaurant said customers had not regained their full strength.
“I hope this situation will continue during the Lunar New Year holidays,” said Chen, who gave only his last name. “I count on business to be more normal after the holidays.”
In the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, people were no longer so anxious, a man surnamed Wu told Reuters.
“Labor production, life and entertainment are returning to normal levels,” added Wu, a tutor at a private training center.
TRAVEL DURING THE LUNAR NEW YEAR
China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, begins on Jan. 21 this year, when the rail network is expected to carry 5.5 million passengers, state broadcaster CCTV said.
As holiday travel expectations grow, authorities at Tibet’s spectacular Potala Palace said it will open to visitors from Jan. 3, after closing it last August due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Some hotels in the southern resort of Sanya are fully booked for the Lunar New Year, according to media reports.
In recent days, state media have tried to reassure the public that the COVID-19 outbreak was under control and approaching its peak.
Infections in the cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing are nearing end, Caixin media said on Sunday, citing analysts in the Chinese trading enclave.
But infections will peak in the urban regions of Sichuan, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai in the second half of January, they added.
More than 80 percent of people in southwestern Sichuan are infected, according to the province’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
But Monday’s only new COVID-19 death — unchanged from the previous day — among China’s 1.4 billion people does not match other countries’ experience after reopening.
The official death toll of 5,250 since the start of the pandemic contrasts with the more than one million recorded in the United States. Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 million people ruled by China, has recorded more than 11,000 deaths.
According to health data company Airfinity, about 9,000 people are likely dying every day in China from COVID-19, while the cumulative death toll since Dec. 1 has likely reached 100,000, with 18.6 million infections.
UK-based Airfinity expects COVID-19 cases in China to peak on Jan. 13, with 3.7 million daily infections.
China has claimed that it only counts patient deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure as COVID-19-related.
The relatively low death count also does not match the increase in demand reported by funeral homes in several cities.