© Reuters. A courier makes deliveries near a worker in a protective suit sitting outside a locked residential area during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beijing, China, May 12, 2022.REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rollins
Martin Quinn Pollard and David Steinway
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Streets in the Chinese capital Beijing were quiet on Friday as residents heeded advice from authorities to work from home to stop the spread of COVID-19, while officials in the locked down Shanghai said they were targeting Beat the virus this month.
Beijing officials on Thursday night denied rumors of a Shanghai-style sweeping lockdown and urged people not to panic buy but to stay home. They also announced a new round of mass testing across much of the city.
Friday was calmer after most residents rushed to supermarkets to stock up on food and other supplies the night before.
“I’m not that worried. In fact, we’ve all been working from home recently,” said Leo Luo, a 27-year-old financial sector worker.
“I don’t think it’s very different from what’s been going on lately, it’s just that it could be a bit broader.”
Authorities in the capital have banned restaurant dine-in services, closed some malls, entertainment and tourist venues, suspended parts of the bus, subway and taxi systems and imposed blockades on some residential buildings.
COVID-19 restrictions have left hundreds of millions of people in varying degrees in dozens of major cities, hurting consumption and manufacturing, and disrupting trade and global supply chains.
While travel restrictions are being eased across much of the rest of the world as countries try to “coexist with COVID,” China said on Thursday it would “strictly restrict” its citizens’ non-essential travel abroad.
Most international flights to and from China have been cancelled over the past two years, but the statement from immigration authorities is the clearest sign yet that travel won’t resume anytime soon.
Before the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, Chinese tourists and students had been an important source of income for many economies around the world.
China has firmly rejected criticism of its uncompromising “zero-coronavirus” policy, saying saving lives is worth the huge short-term cost and that the activity will gradually resume once the outbreak is eradicated.
“Those who accuse China of its dynamic zero-coronavirus strategy are short-sighted,” said the Global Times, a state-backed nationalist tabloid, in an editorial.
“Some of them are just trying to smear, discredit and undermine China. Whoever bets that China faces the risk of a self-inflicted recession will bear the consequences for their mistakes.”
Officials in Shanghai, after six weeks of an almost complete lockdown, said economic activity was gradually returning, with many factories operating in a “closed-loop” system and workers living on site.
More than 9,000 large enterprises in Shanghai are currently operating at nearly 50% capacity, officials said.
Some economists expect China’s economic growth to slow sharply in the second quarter, or even shrink, jeopardizing its full-year growth target of around 5.5 percent.
Trading was at its lowest level since September 2020.
China will not hesitate to introduce new policies to support growth, Han Wenxiu, deputy director of the Communist Party’s Office of Financial and Economic Affairs, said on Thursday.
The government has been cutting taxes for businesses and spending more money on infrastructure projects, while the central bank has been pumping more cash into the economy and increasing support for certain industries.
The daily number of coronavirus cases in Beijing remains in the dozens, a fraction of the more than 2,000 cases in Shanghai.
But almost all of Shanghai’s cases are in areas already under strictest control. Cases found in relatively liberal communities were the most closely watched for clues about where the Shanghai outbreak was headed.
The number of such cases rose to four on May 12 from two the day before. All four are in Pudong District.
Victory is getting closer, but the fight against China’s largest-ever COVID-19 outbreak “still requires the joint efforts of every citizen,” Wu Qing, vice mayor of Shanghai, said at a news conference on Friday.
Some Shanghai residents were allowed short walks and grocery shopping outside their residential areas last week, but the city has been tightening restrictions in recent days in a push to eradicate the virus this month.
More and more areas are entering what authorities call “silent management mode,” which typically means boards or fences around buildings, no deliveries, and residents trapped indoors again.
Wu said that once “zero outbreaks” are achieved at the community level, the city will begin to steadily ease traffic restrictions and open stores.
Relentless testing is still required to avoid contracting the virus as much as possible when returning to normal life. Testing capacity has increased to more than 8 million tests per day, with more than 5,700 test stations operating.