WRAPUP 1-Chinese make travel plans as COVID rules ease further

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Sophie Yu and Joe Cash

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – After three years of being cut off from the rest of the world by COVID-19 restrictions, Chinese people will travel on Tuesday ahead of borders reopening. flocked to the site. further disrupted the economy.

From closed borders to frequent blockades, zero-tolerance measures have taken a toll on China’s economy since early 2020, and last month saw the largest number of Chinese citizens on the mainland since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012. expressed dissatisfaction.

His sudden shift in policy this month means the virus is now spreading largely unchecked across the nation of 1.4 billion people.

However, no new COVID deaths were reported in the six days through Sunday, according to Beijing statistics, raising questions among health professionals and residents about the government’s data.

Doctors say hospitals are overwhelmed with five to six times more patients than usual, most of them elderly. International health experts estimate that there are millions infected each day and predict that at least one million people will die from her COVID in China next year.

Nonetheless, officials are determined to dismantle the last vestiges of the zero COVID policy.

China will stop requiring inbound travelers to quarantine from Jan. 8, in a major step to ease border restrictions welcomed by Asian stock markets on Tuesday, the National Health Commission said late Monday. said to

Within 30 minutes of the news, searches for popular cross-border destinations increased tenfold, according to data from travel platform Ctrip. Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and South Korea were the most popular, according to Ctrip.

Within 15 minutes of the news, searches for international flights jumped sevenfold, with Thailand, Japan and South Korea topping the list, according to data from another platform, Qunar.

China’s control of COVID will also be downgraded from the current top Category A to the less stringent Category B from 8 January, health officials said.

This change means that local authorities will no longer be forced to isolate patients and their close contacts and lock down areas.

But despite the excitement of a gradual return to the pre-COVID lifestyle, pressure on China’s health system is mounting, with doctors saying many hospitals are overwhelmed and funeral parlor workers reports a surge in demand for its services.

Nurses and doctors are being asked to work while sick and retired health workers in rural areas are being rehired, state media said. I am struggling with

“Look at the funeral homes in different cities. I heard that you have to wait three to five days for cremation here,” one person in eastern Shandong complained on social media.

short term pain

The world’s second-largest economy is expected to see a sharp recovery in the second half of next year, once the first shock wave of infections subsides, but more illnesses among its workers could put it at risk in the coming weeks. The next few months will be a tough road.

Many stores in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere have been forced to close in recent days as workers have been unable to come to work. Some factories have already sent many workers on leave for the Chinese New Year holidays in late January.

“Concerns about temporary supply chain distortions remain as the workforce is impacted by the epidemic,” analysts at JPMorgan said in a note. virus spread.

Lifting travel restrictions is good for our $17 trillion economy, but with strong caveats.

Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China, said, “International travel… is likely to surge, but it could be several more months before volumes return to pre-pandemic levels.

“COVID is still spreading across most parts of China, significantly disrupting normal work schedules. Productivity losses are significant, and over the next few months, as demand surges outweigh supply recovery, inflationary pressure could become severe.”

(Reporting by Beijing and Shanghai bureaus and Chen Lin in Singapore; writing by Marius Zaharia)

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