China faces bumpy road back to normal as infections surge

Beijing – After three years of quarantine brought them close to closure, restaurateur Meng Li and his wife are hoping business will bounce back after strict anti-virus controls were lifted in China.

As sales slowly recover, they face a new challenge: diners wary of a wave of infections in the country. At 8pm on a Wednesday night, only three of their 20 tables were filled.

After some of the world’s strictest restrictions ended abruptly and people returned to schools, shopping malls and restaurants, China is on a rocky road back to normal life, despite hospital overcrowded Fever, wheezing COVID-19 patient.

“Many people are still watching because they are afraid of being infected,” Li said. “Eating out can be postponed for now.”

The ruling Communist Party began rolling back testing, quarantines and other restrictions in November in an attempt to reverse a deepening recession.

The “zero COVID” strategy confined millions of families to their homes for weeks at a time, shutting down much travel into and out of China and emptying the bustling streets of major cities. That has kept its infection rate low but has dampened economic growth and sparked protests.

“People started going back to work, and I saw children in shopping malls,” said Yang Mingyue, a 28-year-old Beijing resident. “Everything is back to normal. It’s really nice.”

The ruling party is turning to work with the US and other governments to try to live with the disease, not stamp out the spread. It has launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly, which experts say is necessary to prevent a public health crisis.

The public expressed unease over the wave of infections but welcomed the change in tactics.

“I do worry a bit, but in order to live, you have to be able to work normally, right?” said Yue Hongzhu, a 40-year-old supermarket manager.

“Since the government allows the opening, isn’t it so scary?” Yue Yue said. “If the virus is highly contagious and everyone’s life is at risk, the government will not let it go.”

On Tuesday, the government announced it would ease restrictions on outbound travel and resume issuing tourist passports for the first time in nearly three years. That could lead to a flood of Chinese tourists going abroad at a time when other governments are alarmed by rising infection rates.

The governments of the United States, Japan and other countries have successively announced Virus testing requirements For travelers from China. They point to a lack of information in Beijing about the spread of the virus and its potential to mutate into new forms.

“The epidemic develops relatively fast,” Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference on Thursday. “The movement of people and the risk of respiratory infectious diseases in winter may complicate the epidemic.”

Global demand for Chinese exports has weakened after the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank raised interest rates to cool economic activity and curb soaring inflation, and pressure is mounting on the ruling party to get consumers out of their homes and spending.

China’s November retail sales fell 5.9% YoY. Imports fell 10.9%, pointing to a deepening decline in domestic demand in China.

Exports fell 9% YoY in November. Forecasters say China’s economy may contract in the final quarter of the year. They have cut their annual growth forecast to below 3%, which would be lower than in any year outside 2020 in decades.

AmCham China said more than 70 percent of companies responding to a poll this month “believe China will recover from the current COVID outbreak in early 2023, after which inbound and outbound business travel and tourism will be allowed.” business recovery.”

Slowing exports will make recovery from the lockdown more difficult, ING economist Iris Pang wrote in a note. “The timing wasn’t perfect,” she wrote.

Restaurateur Li said he and his wife moved to Beijing a decade ago to open a restaurant that focuses on cuisine in the southwestern Yunnan province.

They invested their savings and mortgaged their house in 2019 in order to open two more locations, just before the pandemic hit.

“Our priority now is survival,” Lee said. It could take up to three months for sales to return to normal, and sales are less than half their pre-pandemic levels, he said.

Shi Runfei, a waiter at another restaurant, said anti-virus regulations had prevented him from traveling to his hometown in neighboring Hebei Province for most of the past year/years, and when he was allowed to travel, time-consuming quarantine was required.

“It’s different now,” said Shi, 35. “Of course, there are still risks, but we just need to take self-protection measures.”

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Associated Press video producers Olivia Zhang and Wayne Zhang contributed.

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