China’s capital Beijing further eased Covid curbs on Tuesday, ending the requirement for people to show negative tests to enter supermarkets and offices.
“Beijing readies itself for life again” read a headline in the government-owned China Daily newspaper. People were “gradually embracing” the slow return to normality, it added.
This is the latest in an easing of curbs across the country following last month’s historic protests that marked the biggest show of public discontent in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
Analysts at Nomura estimate that areas now under lockdown equate to around to be 19.3% of China’s total GDP, down from 25.1% last Monday.
This marks the first decline in Nomura’s closely-watched China Covid lockdown index since the start of October, nearly two months ago.
China may further announce 10 new nationwide easing measures as early as Wednesday, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
That has sparked optimism among investors for a broader reopening of the world’s second biggest economy.
Caution against hurried reopening
The shift comes as top officials softened their tone on the severity of the virus, bringing China closer to what other countries have been saying for more than a year.
But some experts have warned that China’s Covid-related death toll could rise above 1 million if the exit is too hasty.
There is also concern about the strain the loosening could put on China’s fragile health system. Many people remain wary of catching the virus, especially the elderly, many of whom remain unvaccinated.
Chinese officials, however, continue to downplay the dangers posed by the virus.
“The most difficult period has passed,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary published late on Monday, citing the weakening pathogenicity of the virus and efforts to vaccinate 90% of the population.
Analysts predict China may now re-open the economy and drop border controls sooner than expected next year, with some seeing it fully open in spring.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena