Beijing nervously gets back to work as China doubles down on ‘zero-COVID’ policy | world news

By Eduardo Baptista and Andrew Galbraith

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – People in Beijing tentatively returned to work on Thursday after a five-day Labor Day holiday without the usual cross-country trips or lavish family dinners, as China pledged to fight against any criticism of its “Zero-COVID Policy”.

The long break is usually one of the most lucrative times of the year for restaurants, hotels and other businesses in China. This year, travelers spent 43% less than in 2021, according to data released Thursday.

It was the latest sign of the pain caused by the COVID restrictions imposed on dozens of major population centers across the country, including the strict citywide lockdown that the Shanghai Mall has endured for more one month.

Authorities in Beijing, which have already closed restaurants, gyms and other public places and locked down some residential buildings, want to avoid going down a similar path.

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The capital’s streets were less hectic than on a normal working day as authorities encouraged people to work from home and dozens of bus and metro lines were closed.

“Right now I feel relatively safe at work and where I live, but I don’t dare run outside because I still feel like the outbreak hasn’t peaked,” said cook Liu Wentao.

Beijing is doing better two weeks into its outbreak than Shanghai was doing then, when daily cases were in the hundreds and rising.

But China’s attempts to stamp out COVID, at odds with the rest of the world opening up and trying to live with the disease, have drawn rare public criticism in his country.

“Shanghai has fallen,” Hu Xijin, a former editor of the state-backed nationalist tabloid Global Times, said on Twitter Weibo on Thursday.

Beijing must either find cheaper ways to fight its epidemic or “tell the truth to all of Chinese society” that the disruptive consequences cannot be avoided, he said.

“The first requires wisdom, the second courage.”

The post was quickly deleted. Hu did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters sent to his Weibo account.

Following a meeting of the country’s top decision-making body later Thursday, state television reported that China “will resolutely combat all comments and actions that distort, doubt and repudiate our country’s anti-epidemic policies.” country “.

Relaxing COVID controls would lead to large-scale infections, state television said. It was unclear whether the comments related to Hu’s post, although many Weibo users drew a link.

China’s policy, where the virus was first identified in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, threatens its official growth target of around 5.5% this year and is impacting the economy and trade global.

Global supply chains rely heavily on Chinese manufacturers, whose workers are often not allowed to leave their locked homes. Major international consumer brands have invested heavily in China in recent years to tap into a market rich in voracious spenders.

The European Chamber of Commerce in China said on Thursday that EU companies are increasingly looking to shift their investments to other markets.

Chinese markets have stabilized around two-year lows recently, but investor sentiment is increasingly resting on hopes of policy support from the central bank and other regulators.

China says its COVID policy is saving lives, which is worth it, though top officials have pledged to help companies weather the storm.

A Shanghai official said on Thursday authorities had struggled to strike the right balance between fighting infections and getting businesses back to business.

“Some companies have reported … that the standards for returning to work are somewhat high,” said Zhang Hongtao of the city’s economy and information technology commission.

For the 25 million people, most of whom are still in lockdown, there seemed to be a major difference between advice from above and enforcement on the ground.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said in Shanghai on Sunday that communities with no new cases for seven days should be allowed to return to “normal social order”.

Yet some of these communities only allow one member of each household to go out for a few hours a day. Elsewhere, no one is allowed out even though the community’s risk level has been officially lowered.

In some districts, buildings are assigned stars based on when their last COVID cases were recorded, with the top five-star rank indicating no new cases for at least two months.

On Thursday, a WeChat group of residents locked in a block of nearly 100 apartments in the city’s Changning district rejoiced that they had finally been awarded five stars.

“Great. Can I take the dog out for a walk?” asked a resident.

“I’m sorry, at the moment we are not allowed to walk dogs,” replied the volunteer building manager.

(Reporting from the Beijing and Shanghai bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia and John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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