Beijing’s COVID-19 gloom deepened on Sunday with many shops and other businesses closed, and an expert warned of many thousands of new coronavirus cases as anger over China’s previous COVID policies gave way to worry about coping with infection.
China dropped most of its strict COVID curbs on Wednesday after unprecedented protests against them last month, but cities that were already battling with their most severe outbreaks, like Beijing, saw a sharp decrease in economic activity after rules such as regular testing were scrapped.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many businesses have been forced to close as infected workers quarantine at home while many other people are deciding not to go out because of the higher risk of infection.
Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, told state media that the Omicron strain of the virus prevalent in China was highly transmissible and one infected person could spread it to as many as 18 others.
“We can see that hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people are infected in several major cities,” Zhong said.
With regular COVID testing of Beijing residents scrapped and reserved only for groups such as health workers, official tallies for new cases have plunged.
Health authorities reported 1,661 new infections for Beijing Saturday, down 42% from 3,974 on Dec. 6, a day before national policies were dramatically relaxed.
But evidence suggests there are many more cases in the city of nearly 22 million people where everyone seems to know someone who has caught COVID.
“In my company, the number of people who are COVID-negative is close to zero,” said one women who works for a tourism and events firm in Beijing who asked to be identified as just Nancy.
“We realise this can’t be avoided – everyone will just have to work from home,” she said