People lined up outside fever clinics at China’s hospitals for Covid-19 tests on Monday in a new indication of the rapid spread of symptoms after authorities began dismantling stringent measures against the disease.
Three years into the pandemic, the world’s second-largest economy is moving to align with a world that has largely opened up to live with Covid.
But with little exposure to a disease kept largely in check until now, China is ill-prepared, analysts say, for a wave in infections that could heap pressure on its fragile health system and drive businesses to a halt.
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“Basically everybody is now simultaneously rushing to buy rapid antigen test kits but has also somewhat given up on the hope that Covid can be contained,” said Lily Li, a worker at a toy company. Several employees at her company, as well as staff at suppliers and distributors, had been infected and were at home isolating themselves.
“We have accepted that we will have to get Covid at some point anyway.”
Worried investors drag socks, yuan
China’s stocks markets broadly retreated and the yuan eased from a near three-month high hit in the previous session, as investors fretted that rising infections might disrupt consumption and manufacturing.
But for the same reason demand surged for stocks in Chinese drugmakers, and providers of masks, antigen tests and funeral services.
“Please protect yourself,” the management of a condominium in the capital’s Dongcheng district warned residents on Sunday, saying almost all its staff had been infected.
Such messages appear to have hit home for some who say they are reluctant to visit crowded places or dine at restaurants.
That is why few analysts expect a quick, broad rebound in spending in the world’s second largest economy, as the glee that greeted the abrupt relaxations was tempered with uncertainty for consumers and businesses.
Possible peak in a month
The numbers of patients waiting to be admitted into emergency and fever clinics were growing, a doctor who works in a respiratory department at a Beijing hospital was quoted by the state-backed Global Times newspaper on Sunday as saying.
Yet China is pushing to free up nationwide travel, even if foreign trips may be a while off.
A state-mandated mobile app used to track the travel histories of the country’s 1.4 billion people will shut down at midnight on Monday, according to a notice on its official WeChat account.
The number of domestic flights available across China also exceeded 7,400, nearly double from a week ago, flight tracker app VariFlight showed.
Meanwhile, new home sales in 16 cities picked up last week, in a move partly attributed to the easing of curbs, as people venture out to view homes, the China Index Academy said.
But Chinese health expects have warned of an imminent surge in infections.
In comments on Monday in the state-backed newspaper Shanghai Securities News, Zhang Wenhong, head of a team of experts in the commercial hub, said the current outbreak could peak in a month, though an end to the pandemic might be three to six months away.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena