Officials in some Chinese cities are urging residents on Wednesday to avoid unnecessary trips over the upcoming holiday weekend in an apparent bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The news will likely add to the economic toll that widespread Covid restrictions – reportedly keeping hundreds of millions of citizens under lockdown, or with limited capacity to travel, in nearly 50 cities currently.
Authorities in Nanjing and Wuxi in eastern Jiangsu province recommended that residents not leave town during the Saturday-Monday mid-autumn festival, echoing similar advisories made by other cities this month.
China reported a slight uptick in new cases for Tuesday September 6 to 1,695 – low by global standards – but its “dynamic zero” Covid policy to stamp out every infection chain means numerous cities have imposed various curbs on movement.
Nomura issued a note on Tuesday saying at least 291 million people in 49 cities appear to be affected by Covid curbs this week.
The government’s heavy-handed approach, while successful in keeping case numbers down, is weighing on the economy and fuelling widespread frustration nearly three years into the pandemic.
Chinese authorities have not announced any plan to exit the policy that has all but shut China’s borders to international travel. But analysts expect it could remain in place till at least the second quarter of 2023.
Clampdown Ahead of Party Congress
The latest advisories aimed at curbing Covid’s spread come just over a month before Beijing hosts a once-in-five-years congress of the ruling Communist Party, where President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third leadership term.
The southwestern city of Chengdu, where most of the 21.2 million residents remained on Wednesday in a lockdown that began last Thursday, has yet to announce a plan to end the strict curbs.
In Beijing, the suburban Yizhuang economic and technological development zone said Communist Party officials must not leave the city unnecessarily during mid-autumn festival or the week-long holiday in early October, while residents of the area were also advised to stay put.
“The whole zone … must strictly and assiduously implement various tasks for Covid prevention and control, in order to create a safe and stable social environment for the party congress,” it said in a statement.
Beijing reported 14 locally transmitted infections for Tuesday, the capital’s highest daily count since mid-June. All but two of the infections had been quarantined for medical observation before diagnosis, the city said on Wednesday.
In the latest gloomy barometer for the world’s second-largest economy, data released on Wednesday showed exports and imports lost momentum in August, significantly lagging forecasts, as inflation crippled overseas demand and fresh Covid curbs and heatwaves in China disrupted output.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard