Beijing launched a new round of mass coronavirus testing on Saturday as it shut down more bus routes and underground railway stations.
The Chinese capital is seeking to avert the fate of Shanghai, where millions of residents have been locked down for over a month.
The movement curbs on Shanghai, China’s economic and financial hub, have caused frustration among its 25 million residents and triggered rare protests over issues such as access to food and medical care as well as loss of income.
While some people have been let out for light and air in recent weeks, residents for the most part say they still cannot leave their housing compounds.
Shanghai cases have fallen for eight straight days and the city says its outbreak is under effective control, allowing it to shut some of the makeshift hospitals it raced to build as case numbers ballooned.
But authorities have also indicated that a full easing is still far off and warn against complacency to stick to China’s zero-Covid goal, despite the threat to the economy.
China reported 4,675 new coronavirus cases on Friday, of which 351 were symptomatic and 4,324 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said on Saturday.
That compares with 4,714 new cases a day earlier – 374 symptomatic and 4,340 asymptomatic infections. There were 13 fatalities, bringing the death toll to 5,153.
Full or Partial Lockdowns
Beyond Shanghai, dozens of cities have imposed full or partial lockdowns, relaxing and tightening curbs at various times.
“While the severity of the Omicron outbreak eases, the economic disruption from continued partial lockdowns in multiple cities drags on,” said Barclays economist Jian Chang in Hong Kong.
“We think the government will tolerate lower growth this year, and maintain our below consensus growth forecast of 4.3%,” she added.
The measures are exacting a mounting economic toll that has fuelled complaints from global industry groups and businesses at home.
The lockdowns have crippled companies, from carmaker Tesla to food chain owner Yum China. Niche manufacturers like Under Armour, which relies on much of its profits from China, are particularly vulnerable.
“Under Armour has been particularly impacted by China’s zero-Covid policy,” said Danni Hewson, AJ Bell financial analyst in London.
“If people can’t go out, they don’t need fancy kit to work out in and quite a chunk of its sales normally come from Asian consumers.”
University Exam Postponed
Shanghai officials on Saturday postponed the “gaokao” university entrance exam for city students by a month. The last time that happened was in 2020, during the initial virus outbreak.
The fight against Covid-19 is increasingly framed by leaders in national security terms.
The city’s top Communist Party official, Li Qiang, a close ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, told a Friday government meeting that it was “necessary to issue military orders at all levels, and take more resolute and powerful actions to overcome the great war and great tests”.
The number of infections in Shanghai outside areas under lockdown – a gauge of whether the city can further reopen – fell to 18 on Friday from 23 the day before. Total new cases declined slightly to around 4,000, data released on Saturday showed.
Shanghai is also building thousands of permanent testing stations, in line with other cities, as China looks to make regular testing a feature of everyday life.
China’s policy is increasingly out of step with much of the rest of the world, where governments have eased restrictions, or dropped them altogether, in a bid to “live with Covid” even as infections spread.
But Chinese leaders this week reiterated their resolve to battle the virus and threatened action against critics of their strict measures.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell