By Bernard Orr and Albie Zhang
BEIJING (Reuters) – The larger region of Beijing urged people to stay home over the weekend and several Chinese cities saw a spike in COVID-19 outbreaks on Friday, even as China tightened its COVID rules, lifting capacity restrictions at entertainment venues.
As part of a series of measures announced last week, authorities have sought to focus more on enforcing COVID-19 restrictions that have weighed on the economy and fueled public frustration and anger, fueling the hopes of investors from more significant easing this week.
However, China continues to emphasize its commitment to a zero-covid policy, which Beijing says is saving lives as outbreaks lead to ongoing local lockdowns in Chinese cities.
Beijing’s Chaoyang district, home to embassies and large office buildings, urged residents to stay indoors this weekend after a record 466 infections were reported in the city on Thursday.
“Beijing is undergoing a major overhaul,” city government spokesman Xu Hejian told reporters at a briefing on Friday.
City officials warned of increasing community spread, saying prevention and control is at a critical stage.
Several restaurants in the area said they were told to stop eating, while those around them asked some people to get tested for COVID daily. The surge in testing comes as some cities have halted free community testing, putting a strain on city finances.
China reported 25,129 new local infections on Friday, up from 23,132 the day before and close to the record of more than 29,000 set at the peak of the outbreak in Shanghai in April.
Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs, which recently cut China’s fourth-quarter growth forecast from 3.6% to 3% due to local Covid restrictions, expects further setbacks ahead of a phased reopening expected to begin in April. .
“In our baseline, prior to reopening in April, Covid control measures such as lockdowns and targeted testing will still be implemented in areas with localized recovery from Covid, anticipating prolonged interruptions in service and consumption in the coming months,” the Goldman Sachs analysts wrote. .
In another sign that China can expect detente in 2023, President Xi Jinping said on Friday that China would consider hosting a third Belt and Road Forum next year. Previous events, in 2017 and 2019, have drawn the attention of dozens of heads of state and officials.
Experts warn that a full reopening will require a massive vaccination push and a shift in messaging, even in a country where COVID remains widely feared despite low total case numbers by global standards.
On Friday, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued guidelines for travel agencies, entertainment venues and performances, lifting restrictions on the number of people allowed in theaters and events such as concerts and music festivals in low-risk areas where no there are sprouts.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued revised guidelines for travel agencies, entertainment venues, and performances, while local administrators were instructed to increase the precision of prevention and control measures and not to close entertainment venues.
The special measures, which are largely in line with China’s latest rules, may still be a silver lining for public services like karaoke rooms and internet cafes, which have been under a zero-Covid policy for nearly three years.
China last week announced 20 new measures aimed at easing the impact of Covid restrictions, including reducing the quarantine period for incoming cases and close contacts of travelers to a total of two days to eight days.
The southern metropolis of Guangzhou, a manufacturing and transportation hub that is at the center of the current outbreak and has locked down several districts, reported nearly 9,000 new cases on Friday from the previous day.
On Thursday, Guangzhou announced plans to build temporary hospitals and quarantine facilities with some 250,000 beds for COVID-19 infections.
The southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, another hotspot, reported 4,666 new infections.
(Reporting by Albie Zhang, Bernard Ory Gramm; Tony Munro; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Raisa Kasolowski)