February 7, 2023

Beijing comes alive after the lockdowns, but China is not out of the woods

Crowds gather to see a band perform at the Solana Mall in Beijing on Christmas Eve 2022, as the city recovers from a wave of Covid.

Vcg | China Optical Group | Getty Images

BEIJING – People have returned to the streets in the Chinese capital as it emerges from a wave of Covid infections.

During Monday morning rush hour, traffic in Beijing was up about 90% from last week — to “severely congested” levels, according to Baidu data.

Over the weekend, ticket requests for attractions in the city of Beijing doubled from the previous week, according to data cited by Chinese business news site 21st Century Business Herald. CNBC could not verify the numbers.

Anecdotally, foot traffic at malls and CityWalk at Universal Resort Beijing over the weekend skyrocketed to modestly crowded levels. Not all stores have reopened yet. Christmas is not a public holiday in mainland China, but it is often celebrated by young people.

Baidu data showed that, in contrast to the increase in traffic in the city of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen still experienced very low levels of congestion on Monday morning. Both cities are starting to see a wave of Covid infections after Beijing.

The rebound in social activity in Beijing over the past few days is an example of how long it may take for the country to shake off the economic impact of zero Covid controls.

A month ago, Beijing residents were dealing with a Increased apartment closings and then Public protests. In early December, municipal and central authorities abruptly ended many covid controls In the midst of an increase in infections.

The city said visits to fever clinics rose 16 times a week — to 22,000 on Dec. 11. Four days later, the daily count had risen to 73,000 hits, but by December 21, the number had fallen to 65,000 hits. According to an official report Saturday. The city has a population of about 22 million.

The proportion of severe Covid cases and elderly patients increased, the report said. It quoted a director at a local hospital as saying that the percentage of visits to the elderly had risen from less than 20% to nearly 50%.

Older people in China have lower rates of Covid vaccination, and often have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus. Anecdotally, the number of deaths increased.

However, there are fewer and fewer official disclosures. China’s National Health Commission on Sunday Stop sharing daily figures on Covid infections and deaths, ending a practice that had lasted nearly three years.

One of the official arguments for maintaining tight Covid controls was that an already overstretched national health system would struggle to deal with a surge in infections.

Covid cases are still rising

Despite the lack of public data at the national level, Zhejiang Province – which borders Shanghai – on Sunday shared some of the most detailed official numbers on Covid.

The county said daily Covid infections in the region have exceeded one million, and are likely to double, peaking at two million people per day around New Year’s. The province has a population of about 65.4 million, of which more than 70% live in cities such as Hangzhou, the home of Alibaba.

Zhejiang said the province’s fever clinics have a maximum daily production capacity of 600,000. Of the large hospitals in the county, authorities said, there were more than 12,000 ICU beds, or 9.9% of the open beds.

According to Baidu data, the traffic on Monday morning in Hangzhou was very light.

Travel is on the rise

While people are staying at home in some parts of China as infections increase, other regions as well as Beijing are seeing a revival in social activity.

Baidu data showed that the cities of Chengdu and Chongqing in the southwest saw big jumps in road traffic to extreme congestion levels like Beijing.

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