China is grappling with a resurgence in coronavirus outbreaks, with cities across the country reimposing restrictions as authorities race to stamp out cases of the more infectious variant of Omicron that has become dominant in the west.
Macau, which is experiencing its worst Covid-19 outbreak to date, announced on Saturday a week-long closure of all non-essential businesses, including casinos, starting Monday. Xi’an, a 13-minute city that has suffered a severe lockdown this year, entered a “circuit breaker” last week to eradicate the BA.5 subvariant.
Eleven Chinese cities are now fully or partially closed, affecting 114.8 million people, or 8.1% of the population, according to data released last week by Japanese investment bank Nomura.
Analysts said the cycle of outbreaks, mass testing, lockdowns and easing will continue under President Xi Jinping’s strict zero Covid policy, although authorities are trying to implement measures more targeted such as shorter quarantines and limited lockdowns, according to analysis by Goldman Sachs.
Macau’s Casino Lisboa, owned by late gambling mogul Stanley Ho, SJM Holdings, was temporarily closed on Tuesday with 500 people inside after being linked to a cluster of 13 cases. Hotels including the Grand Hyatt in Melco and the Sheraton in Sands China have been converted into quarantine facilities.
The round of restrictions also continued to weigh on the Chinese economy. Data released Saturday by the National Bureau of Statistics showed consumer prices rose 2.5% year-on-year in June due to higher energy and pork prices, from 2.1% in May. Ex-factory price growth slowed, rising 6.1% in June from a year earlier, the slowest rate in 15 months.
Shanghai, China’s financial hub, is also struggling to contain cases just weeks after reopening a two-month lockdown, with a mass testing campaign ordered after a cluster of more than 70 cases were reported. been linked to a karaoke bar, according to local authorities.
Authorities have begun assigning risk levels to sub-districts and even streets in a bid to impose targeted quarantines on residential compounds and spare most of the city’s 26 million people. Only one new case was reported on Saturday outside of confinement, while 59 cases were reported among people already in quarantine.
However, tensions remain high. A Shanghai resident who asked not to be named told the Financial Times she felt “frustration” and “disappointment” at the return of restrictions. The resident, who works for an international company, endured confinement in March and April. “I personally assume this will be the ‘new normal,'” she said.
Beijing was forced to backtrack on a vaccination mandate for public places after a popular backlash prompted authorities to drop the rule less than two days after it was announced last week.
According to state media, nearly 90% of China’s 1.4 billion people have received two doses of the vaccine, but the rate among the elderly is much lower. Domestic vaccines using inactivated virus technology are also less effective than mRNA injections produced by companies such as BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna. Chinese authorities have not licensed foreign mRNA vaccines, and local mRNA candidates remain in the trial stage.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong has warned of a doubling in infections within weeks after registering more than 3,000 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure since April.
The push came as local authorities said they were considering reopening the border with the mainland and shortening mandatory quarantine for arrivals, which has stifled the city’s business community. Hong Kong also this week scrapped a controversial no-fly scheme under which 100 flights had been banned this year.
Elsewhere in Asia, the number of cases has reached recent highs after countries eased entry restrictions in a bid to encourage tourism and boost local economies.
Indonesia reported more than 2,800 cases on Thursday, its highest number in more than three months. The government said it would require tourists to have received a booster shot.
Singapore, which received an influx of expats from regional rival Hong Kong, reported more than 12,000 cases on Tuesday, but authorities in the city-state downplayed the likelihood of further action.
Additional reporting by Edward White in Wellington, Chan Ho-him in Hong Kong, John Reed in New Delhi and Oliver Telling in Singapore