Beijing shuts parks, museums as China’s COVID-19 cases rise

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Beijing shut parks, shopping malls and museums on Tuesday while more Chinese cities resumed mass testing for COVID-19, as China fights a spike in cases, deepening concerns about its economy and dampening hopes for a quick post-coronavirus reopening.

China reported 28 127 new local cases nationally for Monday, nearing its daily peak from April, with infections in the southern city of Guangzhou and the southwestern municipality of Chongqing accounting for about half of the total.

In the capital, Beijing cases are hitting fresh highs each day, prompting calls from the city’s government for more residents to stay put. There were two new deaths attributed to COVID-19 by health officials, compared with three over the weekend, which were China’s first since May.

The latest wave is testing recent adjustments China has made to its zero-COVID policy, which asks authorities to be more targeted in their clampdown measures and steer away from the widespread lockdowns and testing that have strangled the economy and frustrated residents.

The municipality of Tianjin, near Beijing on Tuesday became the latest to order city-wide testing, after a similar announcement on Sunday by Shijiazhuang. Even after the tweaked guidelines, China remains a global outlier with its strict COVID-19 restrictions, including borders that remain all-but-shut nearly three years into the pandemic.

Tightening measures in Beijing and other cities, even as China tries to avoid city-wide lockdowns such as the one that crippled Shanghai this year, have renewed investor worries over the economy and prompted global stocks and oil prices to slip overnight.

Nomura analysts said on Tuesday their in-house index estimated that localities accounting for about 19.9% of China’s total gross domestic product was under some form of lockdown or curbs, up from 15.6% last Monday and not far off the index’s peak in April, during Shanghai’s lockdown.

China argues that President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID-19 policy saves lives and is necessary to prevent the healthcare system being overwhelmed.

Many experts caution that full reopening requires a massive vaccination booster effort and a change in messaging in a country where the disease remains widely feared. Authorities say they plan to build more hospital capacity and fever clinics to screen patients and are formulating a vaccination drive.