China ramps up COVID-19 restrictions again as outbreak worsens amid sinking economy

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Nov. 10 (UPI) — China is again ramping up strict “zero-COVID” policies in many major cities across the country as virus cases surge to the highest levels seen in more than six months.

The widening outbreak was especially severe in Guangdong province, where non-essential businesses and schools in eight of 11 districts in the city of Guangzhou have been shuttered this week while lockdown-weary residents were ordered to stay home.

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Chinese officials said the number of infections in Guangdong grew exponentially to reach 500 new cases in only a week’s time, while the tally of those infected without symptoms surged to about 2,500 cases.

In Chongqing, one of China’s largest metropolises with 32 million residents, the outbreak was spreading rapidly, with cases growing from nine at the start of November to more than 750 on Wednesday, according to government figures.

Meanwhile, Asian economists expressed concerns that China’s economy would continue to be weakened due to the impact of virus containment policies. The ongoing health emergency has prompted many local officials throughout the country to tighten the already unrelenting protocols, which have sunk the country’s GDP by nearly 5% since the start of October.

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“As things stand, it is hard to tell whether Guangzhou will repeat the experience of Shanghai in spring this year,” said a memo from Ting Lu, chief economist at the Japanese financial investment firm, Nomura. He was referring to a virus lockdown that lasted two months in the port city and likely resulted in a disappointing second-quarter GDP which grew by only 0.4%.

GDP rebounded with nearly 4% growth in the third quarter, but a report from China’s national customs authority earlier this week showed the country’s imports and exports shrank unexpectedly in October due to the pervasive lockdowns and as goods shipped to the United States plummeted for a third straight month.

The latest outbreak comes in the middle of China’s busy season of expositions and business conferences and has forced the American Chamber of Commerce in China to postpone a major event in Guangzhou for the second time since September. The city’s annual auto show planned for next week has also been put on hold as the nation’s largest auto show in Beijing was never rescheduled after it was canceled earlier in the year.

Both Shanghai Disney Resort and Universal Beijing resort closed down in late October to comply with “the latest government regulations and guidance” and “the requirement of pandemic prevention and control.”

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More delays could be on the horizon so long as travel bans, business and entertainment lockdowns, and city-wide quarantines remain in place throughout the country. Notably, some of the lockdowns have been in place for just about the entire year, with infections, transmissions and deaths climbing over the spring and summer, and now deep into the fall.

“These travel impacts are hurting the abilities of local governments to pitch for investments,” said Chamber president Michael Hart. “I’ve canceled more travel than I’ve actually be able to do.”