China announced on Wednesday the most sweeping changes to its tough antiCOVID regime since the pandemic began three years ago, loosening rules that curbed the spread of the virus but had hobbled the world's second-largest economy and sparked protests.
China announced on Wednesday the most sweeping changes to its tough anti-COVID regime since the pandemic began three years ago, loosening rules that curbed the spread of the virus but had hobbled the world's second-largest economy and sparked protests.
Recommended ArticlesView All
Biggest casualty of ending LTCG regime is not debt funds but the debt market
Mar 25, 2023 IST6 Min(s) Read
US Fed rate hike — willing to hit but afraid to wound
Mar 25, 2023 IST4 Min(s) Read
Withering Weather: Experts see erratic rains to spell higher food prices and tougher inflation ahead
Mar 24, 2023 IST4 Min(s) Read
Decoding Finance Bill proposals for debt funds: What remains and what changes
Mar 24, 2023 IST3 Min(s) Read
The relaxation of rules, which include allowing infected people with mild or no symptoms to quarantine at home and dropping testing for people travelling within the country, are the strongest sign yet that Beijing is preparing its 1.4 billion people to live with the disease.
Even though its borders remain mostly shut, citizens cheered the prospect of a shift that could see China slowly emerging back into a world three years after the virus erupted in the central city of Wuhan.
The announcement quickly soared to the top most viewed topic on China's Weibo platform, with many people cheering the prospect of travelling, though some expressed worries about the greater potential for infections.
"It's time for our lives to return to normal, and for China to return to the world," wrote one Weibo user.
Analysts too, welcomed the shift that could reinvigorate China's sagging economy and currency and bolster global growth.
"This change of policy is a big step forward," said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management. "I expect China will fully reopen its border no later than mid-2023."
According to a new model, China may be risking over a million deaths due to COVID-19 infections in the next few months, the Financial Times reported on December 7. The projections. by Wigram Capital Advisors, an Asia-focused macroeconomic advisory group, have also reportedly said that
daily fatalities may be as high as 20,000 in mid-March in China, demand for intensive care units would peak at 10 times higher than capacity by late March and daily hospitalisations would hit 70,000.
The announcement came after President Xi Jinping, who regards China's relentless fight against COVID as one of his main achievements, chaired a meeting of the Communist Party's Politburo on Tuesday.
Cities across China were gripped by protests over tough COVID policies late last month, in what was the biggest show of public discontent since Xi came to power in 2012.
While those protests petered out in days amid a heavy police presence, cities and regions around the country started announcing a mish-mash of easing measures that fed expectations for Wednesday's announcement.
"About 80 to 90 percent of the Chinese population may eventually be infected with the virus, according to the latest estimate by Feng Zijian, a former deputy chief at China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," reported Bloomberg News.
Feng issued his warning, prior to a Wednesday declaration that demonstrated China's final departure from its long-standing Covid Zero regulations. The government is now loosening a number of limitations that were upheld even after the majority of the rest of the globe began to live with the virus.
“It’s going to be inevitable for most of us to get infected once, regardless of how the Covid-fighting measures are adjusted,” Feng said Tuesday at an online meeting held by the Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Officials have also been softening their tone on the health risks of the virus – bringing China closer to what other countries have been saying for more than a year as they dropped restrictions, and shifted towards living with the virus.
Before China announced its new rules on Sunday, Goldman Sachs also warned that the country could face "millions of daily new cases for a few months, which would be orders of magnitude more than the highest number the country has witnessed thus far".
Gu Xiaohong, a top traditional Chinese medicine official, was quoted in the state-run Beijing Daily on Wednesday as saying China should change its official name for COVID-19 to reflect the virus' mutation and that patients with light symptoms could recuperate at home.
But the looser approach has set off a rush for preventative drugs as some residents, particularly the unvaccinated elderly, feel more vulnerable to the virus.
Authorities across the country have warned of tight supplies and price gouging from retailers in recent days.
"Please buy rationally, buy on demand, and do not blindly stock up," the Beijing Municipal Food and Drug Administration was quoted as saying in the state-owned Beijing Evening News.
In Beijing's upmarket Chaoyang district, home to most foreign embassies as well as entertainment venues and corporate headquarters, shops were fast running out of some of those drugs, according to a resident.
"Last night the medicines were already in stock, and now many of them are out of stock," said Zhang, a 33-year-old educationist, who only gave his surname.
"Epidemic preventions have been lifted…COVID-19 testing sites are mostly being dismantled… So, because right now in Chaoyang district cases are quite high, it is better to stock up on some medicines," he said.
Also Read: Screenshots, blank sheets, sarcasm — How China residents aim to fight censorship of COVID protests
The surge in demand has driven up share prices in medicine manufacturers including cough syrup producer Guizhou Bailing, and Xinhua Pharmaceutical, which makes 40 percent of all Ibuprofen sold in China.
China's yuan has seen a recent resurgence against the dollar, buoyed by the prospects that government would relax its "zero-COVID" policy.
But the currency remains set for its worst year since China unified official and market exchange rates in 1994, as its economy has been battered by COVID curbs.
In further evidence of that, China's exports and imports shrank at a much steeper-than-expected pace in November, data on Wednesday showed.
(With agency inputs)
First Published: Dec 7, 2022 1:40 PM IST
Check out our in-depth Market Coverage, Business News & get real-time Stock Market Updates on CNBC-TV18. Also, Watch our channels CNBC-TV18, CNBC Awaaz and CNBC Bajar Live on-the-go!