Beijing eases non-Covid restrictions on transport to revive economy | Bot To News

China lifted severe pandemic restrictions on transport workers that had slowed the flow of cargo in the country, while Beijing quickly eased its economically damaging Covid-free policy.

The order to local governments followed moves to reopen the country after nearly three years of a suffocating Covid-19 containment strategy that resulted in lockdowns and border closures that hurt business.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, said long-haul truckers would no longer have to work under “closed-loop arrangements” that subjected them to lengthy quarantines and said authorities should not subject them to constant PCR testing.

The country’s roads and ports have been peppered with checkpoints requiring drivers to show a recent negative PCR test and health code, snarling the flow of cargo and slowing the country’s economic recovery.

“[Local governments should] to the best of its ability to provide the service of transporting vaccines, reagents for the detection of antigens, medicines, masks and other medical materials,” the state council also wrote in the announcement.

China has also eased restrictions on flight crews, according to Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific. The crew will only have to spend three days in Hong Kong before flying to the mainland, down from seven days. “We welcome this adjustment,” the airline said.

The sudden U-turn on the virus followed nationwide protests and an economic slowdown triggered by a real estate liquidity crisis. The reopening, however, has raised concerns about a deadly “outbound wave” of Covid cases due to inadequate health care resources and lower vaccination rates among the elderly.

On December 10, China reported just 10,815 new Covid-19 infections and no new deaths. But analysts said given the drop in testing requests since the policy change, the statistics were unlikely to reflect the situation on the ground.

In central Beijing over the weekend, streets and shopping malls were virtually empty as many people stayed at home. Several residents who contracted Covid told the Financial Times that they were self-isolating in their homes without notifying the authorities of their cases.

“The transition phase is likely to be difficult as the country may have to deal with rising caseloads and increasingly strained health systems. In the short term, we may see growth decelerate,” said Jing Li, HSBC’s chief economist for Greater China. “But with increasing vaccination rates and the eventual easing of virus control measures, we are likely to see a strong recovery.”

China is aiming for 5.5 percent gross domestic product growth this year, but HSBC’s forecast for 2022 is 3 percent.

Leading Chinese epidemiologists such as Zhong Nanshan and Li Lanjuan have reassured the public in interviews with state media in recent days of the milder nature of the micron version after months of largely staying out of the public eye.

Their re-emergence has sparked a backlash among netizens, with some questioning the timing, having previously highlighted the version’s highly contagious nature in domestic media, but now advocating for a reopening in line with the government.

People have shared screenshots on social media showing conflicting comments from various officials before and after the recent policy change.

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