Beijing and Shanghai residents return to work as China hobbles to live with COVID


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BEIJING/SHANGHAI – Commuters from Beijing and Shanghai wearing masks swarmed subway trains on Monday as China’s two largest cities edged closer to life with COVID-19 even as frontline medical workers scrambled to deal with millions of new infections.

After three years of tough anti-coronavirus restrictions, President Xi Jinping abandoned the country’s zero-COVID policy of relentless lockdown and testing this month in the face of protests and a growing epidemic.

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The virus is now spreading largely unchecked across the country, with growing doubts among health experts and residents over Chinese statistics, which show no new COVID deaths reported for the six days to Sunday. .

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

But after the initial shock of the political reversal and a few weeks in which people in Beijing and Shanghai have stayed indoors, either to cope with the disease or to try to avoid it, there are signs that life, at least for those who are able to cope with the disease, is on the way to getting back closer to normal.

Subway trains in Beijing and Shanghai were packed, while some major traffic arteries in the two cities were blocked by slow-moving cars on Monday as residents headed to work.

« I am ready to live with the pandemic, » said Lin Zixin, 25, from Shanghai. “Lockdowns are not a long-term solution.

This year, in an effort to keep infections from spiraling out of control across the country, China’s mall’s 25 million residents endured two months of bitter isolation under a strict lockdown that lasted until June 1.

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The bustling streets of Shanghai contrasted sharply with the atmosphere of April and May, when hardly anyone went out.

An annual Christmas market held at the Bund, a shopping area in Shanghai, has been popular with city residents over the weekend. Crowds swarmed 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 rose 132 percent from last weekend, local newspaper The 21st Century Business Herald reported.

« Now practically everyone is back to a normal routine, » said Han, a 29-year-old Beijing resident.

China is the latest major country to move toward treating COVID as endemic. Its containment measures had slowed the economy by $17 trillion to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, disrupting global supply chains and trade.

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

Tesla suspended production at its Shanghai factory on Saturday, outlining a plan to suspend most work at the plant in the last week of December. The company did not give a reason.


The world’s most populous country has narrowed its definition to classify deaths as COVID-related, counting only those involving pneumonia or respiratory failure caused by COVID, raising eyebrows among global health experts.

The country’s health system has been strained, with staff being asked to work while sick and retired medical workers from rural communities are rehired to help, according to state media.

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« The hospital is just overwhelmed from top to bottom, » said Dr Howard Bernstein of the private United Family Hospital in Beijing.

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

Health authorities in southeast Jiangxi province said infections would peak in early January, adding there could be further 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 around 80% of the province’s 45 million people could be infected.

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

Cities across China have rushed to add intensive care units and fever clinics, facilities designed to prevent the wider spread of contagious diseases in hospitals.

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

Concerns remain about the ability of China’s less wealthy cities to cope with a rise in serious infections, especially as hundreds of millions of rural migrant workers are expected to return to their families for the Lunar New Year.

« I’m afraid the flow of people will be huge… (and) the epidemic will break out again, » said Lin, a Shanghai resident.

(Reporting from Beijing and Shanghai bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Muralikumar Anantharaman)



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