Traveller quarantine ends as China takes first steps out of COVID-19 isolation

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Data from travel platform Ctrip showed that within half an hour of the news, searches for popular cross-border destinations had increased 10-fold. Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, South Korea were the most sought-after, Ctrip said.

Data from another platform, Qunar, showed that within 15 minutes of the news, searches for international flights jumped seven-fold, with Thailand, Japan and South Korea at the top of the list.

A couple wearing protective gear stands outside a hospital in Beijing. Beijing is trying to revive the economy as it deals with a full-blown COVID-19 wave.Credit:AP

China’s management of COVID will also be downgraded to the less strict Category B from the current top-level Category A from January 8, the health authority said, as it has become less virulent.

The change means authorities will no longer be compelled to quarantine patients and their close contacts and lock down regions.

But for all the excitement of a gradual return to a pre-COVID way of life, there was mounting pressure on China’s healthcare system, with doctors saying many hospitals are overwhelmed while funeral parlour workers report a surge in demand for their services.

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Nurses and doctors have been asked to work while sick and retired medical workers in rural communities were being rehired to help, state media reported. Some cities have been struggling to secure supplies of anti-fever drugs.

“Just look at the funeral parlours in various cities. I heard that we have to queue for three to five days for cremation here,” one person in the eastern Shandong province complained on social media.

Near-term pain

While the world’s second-largest economy is expected to see a sharp rebound later next year, once the initial shockwave of infections fades, it is in for a rough ride in the coming weeks and months as workers increasingly fall ill.

Many shops in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere have been forced to close in recent days with staff unable to come to work, while some factories have already sent many of their workers on leave for the late January Lunar New Year holidays.

Masked commuters walk through a walkway in between two subway stations as they head to work during the morning rush hour in Beijing,

Masked commuters walk through a walkway in between two subway stations as they head to work during the morning rush hour in Beijing,Credit:AP

“The concern of a temporary supply chain distortion remains as the labour force is impacted by infections,” JPMorgan analysts said in a note, adding that their tracking of subway traffic in 29 Chinese cities showed that many people were restricting their movements as the virus spreads.

Data on Tuesday showed industrial profits fell 3.6% in January-November from a year earlier, versus a 3 per cent drop for January-October, reflecting the toll of the anti-virus curbs in place last month, including in major manufacturing regions.

The lifting of travel restrictions is positive for the $17 trillion economy, but strong caveats apply.

“International travel … will likely surge, yet it may take many more months before volumes return to the pre-pandemic level,” said Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China.

“COVID is still spreading in most parts of China, greatly disrupting the normal work schedule. Loss in productivity is significant and inflationary pressures in the coming months could be acute as the sudden spike in demand will outpace the recovery in supply.”

Reuters

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