China’s big cities are starting to look past Covid as rural areas brace for infections

According to Wind data, subway passenger traffic in Shanghai is rapidly returning to levels seen before the latest Covid wave. Pictured here is a subway car in the city on April 1, 2023.

Hugo Hu | News from Getty Images | Getty Images

BEIJING — China will likely be able to live with Covid-19 until the end of March, depending on how quickly people return to the streets, said Larry Hu, chief China economist at Macquarie.

Metro and road data show traffic is recovering in major cities, he stressed, indicating the worst of the recent Covid wave is over.

“The dramatic reversal in China’s Covid policy since mid-November implies a deeper near-term economic contraction but a faster reopening and recovery,” Hu said in a report on Wednesday. “The economy could see a strong recovery in the spring.”

In recent days, the southern city of Guangzhou and the tourist destination of Sanya said they have passed the peak of the Covid wave.

Chongqing municipal health authorities said Tuesday that daily visitors at major fever clinics were just over 3,000 — a sharp decline from Dec. 12. 16 when the number of patients received exceeded 30,000. The provincial-level region has a population of approximately 32 million.

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Chongqing was the most congested city in mainland China during Thursday morning’s rush hour, according to Baidu traffic data. The numbers showed increased traffic from a week ago in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other major cities.

As of Wednesday, subway ridership in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou had risen sharply from the lows of recent weeks – but had only recovered to about two-thirds of last year’s levels, according to Wind Information.

Caixin’s monthly survey of service firms in December showed they were as optimistic as they had been in about a year and a half, according to a Thursday release. The seasonally adjusted business activity index rose to 48 in December from a six-month low of 46.7 in November.

This reading below 50 still indicates a decline in business activity. The index for a separate Caixin survey of manufacturers fell to 49 in December from 49.4 in November. Her optimism was the highest in ten months.

Next come poorer, rural areas

Medical researchers in Shanghai predicted in a study that the latest Covid wave would pass through major Chinese cities by the end of 2022, while rural areas – and more distant provinces in central and western China – would be hit with infections in mid to late January.

“The duration and magnitude of the upcoming outbreak could be dramatically amplified by the extensive travel during the Spring Festival (January 21, 2023),” the researchers said in a paper published in late December by Frontiers of Medicine, a journal sponsored by the Chinese ministry. was published training.

Typically, hundreds of millions of people travel during the holiday, also known as the New Year celebrations.

The researchers said seniors, particularly those with underlying health conditions, in China’s remote areas are at greater risk of developing serious diseases from the highly transmissible omicron variant. The authors were particularly concerned about the lack of medicines and intensive care units in the countryside.

Even before the pandemic, China’s public health system was overburdened. People from across the country often traveled to overcrowded hospitals in the capital, Beijing, for better healthcare than in their hometowns.

Louise Loo, senior economist at Oxford Economics, remained cautious on a quick recovery in China’s economy.

“A normalization of economic activity will take time and will require, among other things, a change in public perception towards the contagion of Covid and the effectiveness of vaccines,” Loo said in a report on Wednesday.

The company expects China’s GDP to grow by 4.2% in 2023.

Persistent long-term risk

The medical researchers also warned of the risk that mainland omicron outbreaks “could come in multiple waves,” with new flare-ups possible in late 2023. “The importance of regularly monitoring circulating SARS-CoV-2 sublines and variants across China over the coming months and years cannot be overstated.”

However, given the lack of timely information, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday it is asking China for “faster, more regular and more reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time virus sequencing.”

China abruptly ended many of its strict Covid controls that had restricted business and social activities in early December. On Sunday, the country will officially end a quarantine requirement for inbound travelers while restoring Chinese citizens’ ability to travel abroad for leisure. The country introduced strict border controls from March 2020 to contain Covid domestically.

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