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‘Go all out’: China prepares for Covid spread as holiday travel looms

set out urgent plans to protect rural communities from Covid-19 on Friday as millions of city-dwellers planned holidays for the first time in years after it abandoned its stringent system of lockdowns and curbs.

China’s move last week to start aligning with a world that has largely opened up to live with the virus, followed historic protests against President Xi Jinping’s signature ‘zero-Covid’ policies designed to stamp out Covid.

But the excitement that met this dramatic u-turn has quickly given way to concerns that is unprepared for the coming wave of infections, and the blow it could deliver to the world’s second-largest .

reported 2,157 new symptomatic Covid-19 infections for Dec. 15 compared with 2,000 a day.

Beijing says it will focus on stabilising its $17-trillion in 2023 and step up policy adjustments to ensure key targets are hit, said a statement following an agenda-setting meeting, as Beijing scrambles to cushion the impact of a surge in Covid infections.

The two-day meeting of top leaders to chart the economy’s course in 2023 has been watched closely by investors amid expectations that Beijing would ramp up support measures.

The official figures, however, have become less reliable, and are increasingly at odds with signs of wider spread on the ground including long queues outside fever clinics and pharmacy shelves emptied of medicines.

There is particular concern about China’s hinterland in the run up to China’s Lunar New Year holiday starting on Jan. 22.

Rural areas are likely to be inundated with travellers returning to their hometowns and villages, which have had little exposure to the virus during the three years since the pandemic erupted.

China’s National Health Commission on Friday said it was ramping up vaccinations and building stocks of ventilators, essential drugs, and test kits in rural areas. It also advised travellers to reduce contact with elderly relatives.

Mainland China’s borders remain largely shut, but recent decisions to abandon testing prior to domestic and disable apps that tracked people’s journey history have freed up people to move around the country.

One of China’s most populous provinces Henan cancelled all holidays for healthcare staff until the end of March to ensure “a smooth transition” as COVID restrictions ease, state media reported late Thursday.

Multiple cities across the country of 1.4 billion people also opened new vaccination sites to encourage the public to take booster shots, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported.

“Go all out” was the message from China’s state asset regulator in a statement late Thursday that urged government-owned drugmakers to ensure supplies of COVID-related medicines to meet “the rapid increase” in demand.

SF Express, one of China’s largest courier services, said on its official WeChat account that it sent in workers from across the country to keep deliveries going in Beijing amid staff shortages and soaring demand.

It also said it had started a “fast track” for emergency shipments such as medicines and daily necessities, with demand in the capital 300% above normal levels in recent days.

The COVID scare in China also led people in Hong Kong, Macau and in some neighbourhoods in Australia to go in search for fever medicines and test kits for family and friends on the mainland.

Economists rush to adjust projections as Covid zero ends

China’s abrupt ending of its Covid Zero restrictions have forced economists to make sharp revisions to their growth projections for this year and next. UBS Group AG and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. were the latest to adjust forecasts on Friday, cutting estimates for this year to 2.7 per cent as Covid infections spread rapidly. Predictions for next year were raised sharply to close to 5 per cent or higher, on the expectation that consumer and business activity will recover as Covid infections subside.


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