Speaking at a recent seminar in China, Zeng Guang Said that parts of the country are approaching the peak of their virus waves and life in some major cities is slowly returning to normal. But other areas, particularly rural regions, are yet to see infections surge.
“We first zoomed in on big cities. Now it’s the countryside that most deserves our attention,” Caixin reported Zeng as saying, according to a story published on Thursday. “The plans dedicated to Covid control and prevention in rural areas are well devised, but how to implement them is a big problem.”
The warning underscores concerns that Beijing’s abrupt pivot away from Covid Zero would hit poor and rural areas hardest, while successive waves of infections would continue to hamper economic growth.
An enduring outbreak also contrasts with expectations that the high transmissibility of omicron would see most of the country’s virus-naive population infected quickly. While that’s true for some areas — the central province of Henan said last week that around 90% of its nearly 100 million people have been infected — other regions are yet to see rapid spread.
But there are growing concerns that this month’s Lunar New Year holiday will see the virus sweep through smaller cities and rural areas as hundreds of thousands of people travel home, with many finally able to reunite with family after three years.
The regions are also the most poorly equipped to deal with a virus wave. Rural hospitals and clinics have had little experience dealing with Covid, medication is in short supply and facilities are typically sparse. Many villages have seen young people move to big cities for better job opportunities, leaving behind children and elderly, who are under-vaccinated compared with their peers in developed countries.
An enduring wave also adds to China’s economic woes. Covid restrictions had pushed consumer and business sentiment close to record lows, the property market is in a record slump and overseas appetite for Chinese goods has plummeted. The sudden reopening means first-quarter economic activity will also likely be disrupted, although some economists see an increasing possibility of a faster recovery once infection waves peak.
The spread of the virus through rural areas is set to amplify the information vacuum within China that’s sparked fears the true impact of the outbreak isn’t been revealed. Officials appear to have stopped publishing daily Covid data, just as criticism about its lack of transparency grows and a slew of countries introduce measures targeting travelers from China.
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