Streets deserted in China’s cities as new COVID surge looms

  • People are taking steps to protect themselves after restrictions are lifted
  • A senior official predicts three waves in winter
  • Lunar New Year in January for further expansion

BEIJING, Dec 18 (Reuters) – Streets in China’s major cities were eerily quiet on Sunday as people stayed at home to protect themselves against a surge in COVID-19 cases that has hit urban centers from north to south. Is.

According to Wu Zunyu, the country’s chief epidemiologist, China is in the first of three expected waves of Covid this winter. He said more waves will come as they follow the tradition of returning en masse to their home regions for the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

China has not reported any deaths from Covid-19 since December 7, when it abruptly ended most of the key restrictions of its zero-tolerance policy following unprecedented public protests. This strategy was supported by President Xi Jinping.

As part of the easing of zero-covid restrictions, mass testing for the virus has ended, raising doubts about whether official numbers can capture the full scale of the outbreak. China reported about 2,097 new symptomatic Covid infections on December 17.

In Beijing, the spread of Omicron’s highly portable variant is already impacting services from catering to package delivery. Funeral homes and crematoria across the city of 22 million are also struggling amid staff shortages and sick workers and drivers.

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At Beijing’s largest funeral home in Babashan, which is also famous for holding the bodies of top Chinese officials and leaders, several hearses were seen arriving per minute on Sunday, while the parking lot was full. .

“It is difficult to book a hearse now, so many relatives carry the body in their own vehicles,” said an employee, who asked not to be named.

Smoke rises from crematoriums, where groups of people have gathered to collect the ashes of the deceased. It was not immediately clear to what extent the increase in deaths caused by Covid was the cause.

Social media posts also showed empty subways in the northwestern Chinese city of Xi’an, while in Shanghai, the country’s commercial hub, there was none of the usual New Year rush.

“There’s no festive mood,” said one resident, who gave her name as Alice.

In Chengdu, streets were quiet after services adjusted to the recent surge in cases, but food delivery times were improving, said one resident, Zhang.

However, he said it was still difficult to get antigen test kits, explaining that he had been told that the kits he recently ordered had been delivered to hospitals.

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“1 peak, 3 waves, 3 months”

In Shanghai, officials said schools should move most classes online starting Monday, and in nearby Hangzhou, most classes were encouraged to end the winter semester early.

In Guangzhou, those already taking online classes as well as preschools should not prepare to return to school, the Education Bureau said.

Wu, a senior epidemiologist at China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a conference in Beijing on Saturday that the current outbreak will peak this winter and continue in three waves for about three months, according to state media reports of his speech.

The first wave starts from mid-December to mid-January, mainly in cities, before the second wave starts from late January to mid-February next year, triggered by the movement of people ahead of the week-long New Year holiday.

China celebrates the Lunar New Year on January 21. This holiday usually sees hundreds of millions of people travel home to spend time with family.

Wu said the third wave of cases would last from late February to mid-March as people returned to work after the holidays.

In eastern Zhejiang province, home to many high-tech companies and industry, the first wave is expected to peak in mid-January, though it could be earlier, health officials said at a press briefing on Sunday.

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Chen Zhong, Executive Vice President of the Provincial Epidemic Control Working Group, said: “This period coincides with the Lunar New Year, and the movement of the population accelerates the spread of this disease.”

A US-based research institute said this week that the country could see an explosion of cases and that more than one million people in China could die from Covid-19 by 2023.

Wu said severe cases have decreased compared to previous years, and vaccination has provided a certain degree of protection. He said the vulnerable should be protected while recommending booster vaccines for the general public.

While China rolled out the first Covid vaccines in 2021, vaccination rates among people aged 60 and over have not changed much since the summer, according to official figures.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that only 66.4 percent of people over the age of 80 had completed the full course of vaccination.

Reporting by Siyi Liu, Dominique Patton, Ryan Woo, Eduardo Baptista and Brenda Goh. Edited by Kenneth Maxwell and Philippa Fletcher

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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