China Unlikely To Impose Lockdown Despite COVID-19 Surge

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In December, after a massive surge of infections and rising public anger against lockdowns that imposed draconian quarantines, China abruptly abandoned its “Zero Covid” policies. But with coronavirus cases again on the rise, Beijing seems determined to press on with everyday life as it focuses on reigniting economic growth. The move comes when the nation is set to welcome more than two billion travelers for the Lunar New Year celebration, which will see the world’s largest annual migration of people.

Many local governments have come under intense financial strain due to the high cost of dealing with the crisis. They’re already grappling with a slowdown in land sales, sagging fiscal deficits, and rising debt and liabilities. The soaring cost of the coronavirus response is adding to those challenges. “Local government spending is expected to remain elevated as authorities attempt to manage the coronavirus fallout and reactivate the economy,” Moody’s said in a report last week.

But a resurgence of Covid may prove difficult to contain and could derail the economy. As of Friday morning, rush hour traffic was almost empty in major cities such as Shanghai, and subway ridership was well below average, according to data from the internet search engine Baidu and Wind Information, which tracks transportation. Many businesses also appear to be keeping extra inventory in case of another resurgence.

At the Shanghai hospital where Nora works, patients are still quarreling with doctors over access to drugs in short supply. Medics and nurses work overtime to keep up with demand, but they are paid a fraction of their regular salaries.

In Chongqing, all 41,000 spots in the city’s makeshift quarantine centers were filled by Thursday afternoon, and officials have warned that more than 100,000 people will need to be isolated once a new wave of cases hits, The Times reported. Amid that looming crisis, the municipality is racing to build more facilities.

Those tensions highlight the challenge confronting officials as they balance Beijing’s rigid COVID rules with their urge to revive the economy. The resumption of mass, mandatory testing has stoked concerns about a faltering domestic economy and dampened hopes for a quick return to pre-pandemic normal.

The costly lockdown wreaked havoc on the economy, shrinking GDP and driving youth unemployment to record levels. But that episode did not prod Beijing to shift away from zero tolerance. Instead, Xi cemented his grip on power at the Communist Party congress and filled top ranks with staunch supporters of the oppressive policies. That, plus grim economic data and knowledge of a growing infection tsunami, may have prompted the 180-degree turn. But that’s just the start of a long battle to bring China back to its normal state. It’s a battle that will test the limits of the Chinese economy and the nation’s leaders’ willingness to control their people.

NY DAILY INSIDER

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