Beijing The number of corona infections in China has risen to its highest level since the pandemic began. The capital Beijing is reminiscent of a ghost town, in other parts of the country millions of people are completely in lockdown. And that in year three of the pandemic – while many other countries have long since lifted most of the corona measures.
Now there is growing concern among international trading partners that major lockdowns will occur again – with negative effects for the world’s second largest economy and global supply chains.
On Thursday, the National Health Commission reported 31,444 new infections for the previous day. The number of cases is increasing particularly sharply in the metropolises of Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing. In the capital in particular, the situation has recently deteriorated.
Although the city of 22 million is less economically relevant than Shanghai, the lockdowns in the center of power are a symbolic loss of face for the Chinese government. This follows a strict zero-Covid policy. Even minor outbreaks are rigorously combated with lockdowns.
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However, the authorities have recently tested a more targeted approach. In the middle of the month, the National Health Commission had published 20 measures to “optimize” the zero-Covid policy.
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So-called second contacts should no longer be tracked and quarantine times should be reduced. At the same time, lockdowns should be more targeted in order to reduce social and economic damage. But as a result of the easing, there are now corona outbreaks across the country. The population and the economy are reacting with uncertainty.
China reports the highest number of new infections since the pandemic began
Interruptions in supply chains are not yet fully effective due to the “soft lockdowns” in Beijing and many other cities in China, said Jens Hildebrandt, executive board member of the German Chamber of Commerce (AHK) in China, the Handelsblatt. However, German companies are already “preparing for serious effects on production”. Numerous employees are currently unable to get to their jobs due to the tightened measures. “The fact that almost three years after the outbreak of the pandemic there is still no exit strategy for the zero-Covid policy in sight is increasingly met with incomprehension in the German economy,” he criticizes.
So far, however, the problems have been fewer than during the lockdowns in spring, according to the companies. At that time, there had been delivery bottlenecks worldwide as a result of the two-month lockdown on the financial metropolis and logistics hub of Shanghai.
The current outbreaks also dashed hopes that the country would open up quickly. The analysts at the Japanese financial institute Nomura speak of a “lengthy process with high costs”. They lowered the forecast for economic growth in China to 2.8 percent.
Company lacks staff due to lockdowns
Not all regions in the People’s Republic are equally affected by the current restrictions. A larger conference was held in Shanghai in the middle of the week. In Shenzhen, face-to-face events were still possible to a limited extent. Even in Guangzhou, many offices and shops remain open – but companies are short of staff as many people are stuck in local lockdowns.
So far, many companies have been able to keep up production. The supply chains also seem to be stable so far. On the one hand, this is because companies have stocked up. But the supply from the suppliers is still working, according to Volkswagen, for example. Only one of the group’s 40 plants is currently at a standstill due to Corona.
However, the increasing number of cases since September has led to new mobility restrictions in national long-distance transport, according to an analysis by the French investment bank Natixis. This is considered an indicator of growing problems in the supply chains.
The situation in Beijing has deteriorated over the past few days. The Beijing city government had already spoken on Monday that the capital was confronted with the most complex and severe Covid situation since the pandemic began. Most schools switched to online teaching, shops and restaurants had to close again.
The largest district, Chaoyang, where many embassies are located and international companies have their headquarters, is particularly affected. More and more often you see houses or residential complexes that have been cordoned off. The residents are then no longer allowed to leave their four walls.
Overnight lockdown: Residents are often suddenly stuck
Day and night, disease control personnel in white full-body suits stand guard in front of the buildings. Rumors of an imminent lockdown began circulating on Thursday. He has the feeling that this time people’s private lives are more affected than companies, says the representative of a German company.
In fact, everyone now knows one or more acquaintances who are in lockdown. In the best-case scenario, house arrest can last a few hours before a negative test result acquits a suspected case. But it can also last for several days or even weeks. Residents usually only realize in the morning that their residential building has been sealed off overnight and that they are stuck. The duration is unknown at the beginning of the forced quarantine.
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Anyone who tests positive is taken to a central quarantine facility. Many complain about the hygienic conditions in the shelters. Due to the high number of cases in Beijing, exhibition halls have recently been rededicated and provisional container and tent accommodation has been set up for the infected. Criticism is mounting on social media: “Some people celebrate, some people do PCR tests,” it says, alluding to the pictures with full World Cup stadiums in Qatar.
Meanwhile, there are repeated reports of protests among the population against the strict corona measures. In Guangzhou, workers in the textile industry destroyed barricades and test stations last week because they could not return to their homes.
Violent clashes erupted at the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, where the iPhone is made, on Wednesday, apparently because workers were underpaid. A major outbreak at the plant earlier in the month prompted migrant workers to flee in droves. The company tried to close the gaps by promising employees higher bonuses. In the meantime, management has agreed to pay out the higher amounts.
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On Thursday, the health authorities reported the fourth corona-related death in seven days. All of them are elderly people with numerous pre-existing conditions. According to official information, it was the first corona death since the end of May.
Chinese health experts have repeatedly warned against easing the corona restrictions too quickly. The healthcare system would quickly be overwhelmed by a nationwide corona wave, which should lead to increasing death tolls. The state leadership has always justified its strict Covid policy with the fact that it protects its population better than western democracies.
More: Read all current developments in the corona crisis in the news blog