Mask-wearing commuters in Beijing and Shanghai crowded subway trains on Monday as the two biggest Chinese cities edged closer to living with Covid-19 in the midst of a surging new wave of infections in the world’s most populous country.
“I am prepared to live with the pandemic,” said 25-year-old Shanghai resident Lin Zixin. “Lockdowns are not a long-term solution.”
Subway trains in Beijing and Shanghai were packed, while some major traffic arteries in the two cities were jammed with slow-moving cars on Monday as residents commuted to work.
Shanghai’s lively streets were a sharp contrast with the atmosphere in April and May, when hardly anyone went outside. The 25 million people in China’s commercial hub endured two months of bitter isolation under a strict lockdown, as part of the country’s stringent anti-coronavirus curbs.
After the initial shock of the policy U-turn, and a few weeks in which people in Beijing and Shanghai stayed indoors, either dealing with the disease or trying to avoid it, there are signs that life, at least for those able to cope with the virus, is on track to returning closer to normal.
An annual Christmas market held at the Bund, a commercial area in Shanghai, was popular with city residents over the weekend.
Crowds thronged the winter festive season at Shanghai Disneyland and Beijing’s Universal Studios on Sunday, queuing up for rides in Christmas-themed outfits.
The number of trips to scenic spots in the southern city of Guangzhou this weekend increased by 132% from last weekend, local newspaper The 21st Century Business Herald reported.
“Now basically everyone has returned to a normal routine,” said a 29-year-old Beijing resident surnamed Han.
‘Most dangerous weeks’ for China
Beijing and Shanghai’s return to normal comes at a time when Covid infections are spreading largely unchecked across China.
The provincial government of Zhejiang, a big industrial province near Shanghai with a population of 65.4 million, said on Sunday it was battling about a million new daily Covid-19 infections, and expected the number to double in the days ahead.
Health authorities in the southeastern Jiangxi province said infections would hit an apex in early January. The Covid wave would last three months and about 80% of the province’s 45 million residents could get infected, they added.
The city of Qingdao, in the eastern Shandong province, also estimated that up to 530,000 residents were being infected each day.
“China is entering the most dangerous weeks of the pandemic,” analysts from Capital Economics warned in a research note this week. “The authorities are making almost no efforts now to slow the spread of infections and, with the migration ahead of Lunar New Year getting started, any parts of the country not currently in a major Covid wave will be soon.”
Doubts are also mounting among health experts and residents over China’s statistics, which show no new Covid deaths reported for the six days through Sunday.
Doctors say hospitals are overwhelmed with five-to-six-times more patients than usual, mostly elderly.
The country’s healthcare system has been under enormous 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,” doctor Howard Bernstein at the privately owned Beijing United Family Hospital said.
Worries also remain about the ability of less-affluent cities in China to cope with a surge in severe infections, especially as hundreds of millions of rural migrant workers are expected to return to their families for the Lunar New Year.
“I am worried the flow of people will be huge … (and) the epidemic will break out again,” said Lin, the Shanghai resident.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena