Beijing: In December, China abruptly abandoned its “Zero Covid” policies amid a surge of infections and rising public anger against lockdowns. Covid cases again are on the rise, but this time the nation appears to be determined to press on with normal life as the government focuses on reigniting economic growth, New York Times reported.
Though other countries have long settled into such a pattern, it is a shift for China. Until late last year, its national leadership was still ready to lock down whole neighbourhoods and districts, even cities, in a bid to stamp out what were sometimes just small clusters of cases. The New York Times is a daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership.
The Chinese health authorities have reported a rise in Covid cases since April, especially from newer subvariants spreading worldwide. Zhong Nanshan, a prominent doctor who was among the first to openly confirm in early 2020 that Covid could easily spread among people, estimated earlier this week that by late June as many as 65 million people a week could become infected with the coronavirus across China.
That would be up from what he estimated at 40 million infections a week in late May. China no longer publishes regular official nationwide estimates of infections, New York Times reported.
By comparison, after “Zero Covid” controls were set aside in December, new infections reached 37 million a day in China at their peak, according to reports.
Even if, as Zhong acknowledged, the pace of rising infections is laden with uncertainty, a rebound in cases was always likely, and many in China appear steeled to live with a background hum of Covid infections, and sometimes Covid deaths, New York Times reported.
“People have become used to infections, and they see this as normal in the post-Covid era,” Lin Zixian, 36, who works for a technology company in Beijing, said in a telephone interview. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, still often wears a medical mask when he meets people indoors.
But Lin said that he and other members of his family had stopped masking in most public spaces, as have many people in China, New York Times reported.
Officials across China appear to be trying to prepare the population for a rise in infections without reintroducing the heavy controls that by late last year had exhausted public patience.
Since abandoning its tight restrictions on domestic travel, the government has shifted to reviving growth and job creation. The jobless rate of about 20 per cent among urban youth may appear more politically pressing than rising Covid numbers, New York Times reported.
Health officials in Beijing have recommended wearing masks on buses and subways, but it is not mandatory and quite a few passengers do not, especially younger ones. While the recent rise in cases may yet strain hospitals, many people appear more willing to endure the illness at home rather than heading to fever clinics.
For many younger patients, infection can mean a week or so with a fever and other symptoms. Over recent weeks, people have chronicled their symptoms on social media, often in a tone of mordant resignation.
More problematic are older people, many of whom have not had Covid and who may not have received a full round of vaccination shots. Up to three-quarters of Chinese people infected in the recent rise were not infected in the first wave, Zhang Wenhong, the director of the Center for infectious diseases at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai and a major voice in China’s response to Covid, said in a recent interview with Chinese media outlets, New York Times reported.
China should increase vaccination rates, especially among old people; upgrade its homegrown vaccine to better protect against new variants; allow the introduction of internationally developed vaccines; and make anti-viral drugs cheaper and more available to Covid patients, experts say.
This news article was written by Chris Buckley for the New York Times. He is The Times’s chief correspondent in China, where he has lived for most of the past 30 years after growing up in Sydney, Australia.