Several Beijing districts are closing schools as COVID cases surge in China

Students in schools in several Beijing districts buckled up for online classes on Monday after officials urged residents in some of the hardest-hit areas to stay home as COVID cases surged in China’s capital and higher across the country.

China is battling numerous COVID-19 flare-ups, from Zhengzhou in central Henan province to Chongqing in the southwest, and reported 26,824 new local cases for Sunday, nearing peaks in April. Two deaths were also recorded in Beijing, up from one on Saturday, the first in China since late May.

Guangzhou, a southern city of nearly 19 million battling the largest of China’s recent outbreaks, ordered a five-day lockdown for its most populous district, Baiyun. Restaurants have also been suspended and nightclubs and theaters closed in Tianhe, the city’s main business district.

Asian stock markets and oil prices slid on Monday as investors worried about the economic fallout from the worsening COVID situation in China, with risk aversion benefiting bonds and the dollar.

The latest wave is testing China’s resolve to stick with the adjustments it has made to its zero-COVID policy, which urges cities to be more selective in their tough measures and stay away from all-out lockdowns and tests that the The economy has strangled and frustrated residents.

Several Chinese cities last week began cutting routine community COVID-19 tests, including the northern city of Shijiazhuang, which has become the subject of intense speculation that it could be a testbed for policy easing. This raised concern among some local residents.

But late Sunday, Shijiazhuang announced it would conduct mass testing in six of its eight districts over the next five days after seeing 641 new cases appear locally every day. It also encouraged residents to shop online and ordered some schools to suspend in-person classes.

“They lasted a week,” read a popular comment on Weibo about Shijiazhuang’s curbs, which have been among the most-watched topics on the social media platform.

The capital Beijing reported 962 new infections, up from 621 the day before. The sprawling Chaoyang District, home to 3.5 million people, urged residents to stay home as school went online. Some schools in Haidian, Dongcheng and Xicheng also stopped face-to-face classes.

China’s recent efforts to better target its COVID-19 containment have raised investor hopes for more significant easing, even as China faces its first winter dedicated to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

However, many analysts expect such a shift will not begin until March or April as the government argues that President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy saves lives.

Experts warn that a full reopening will require a massive vaccination booster effort and a change in messaging in a country where the disease remains widely feared.

Oxford Economics wrote in a Monday note that it does not expect a zero-COVID exit until the second half of 2023.

“From an epidemiological and political point of view, we believe that the country is not yet ready to open up,” it said.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

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