China has reported its highest number of new COVID-19 infections in six months, a day after health officials said they were sticking with strict coronavirus curbs.
China recorded 4,420 new locally transmitted COVID-19 infections on Saturday, the National Health Commission said, the most since May 6 and up from 3,659 new local cases a day earlier.
While its case numbers are extremely low by global standards nearly three years into the pandemic, China has stuck with a zero-COVID approach that involves lockdowns, quarantines, frequent testing and a drastic decrease in inbound travel.
At a news conference on Saturday, health officials reiterated their commitment to the “dynamic clearing” approach to COVID cases as soon as they emerge.
China’s anti-COVID measures are “completely correct, as well as the most economical and effective”, said disease control official Hu Xiang. “We should adhere to the principle of putting people and lives first, and the broader strategy of preventing imports from outside and internal rebounds.”
The world’s most populous country has pledged to stick to its hardline zero-COVID policy despite growing public frustration with it and its toll on the economy.
President Xi Jinping has said little other than to reiterate the validity of his policy that has made China a global outlier as much of the world tries to coexist with the virus.
Chinese stocks soared last week on rumours of a possible easing of the COVID curbs and media reports that some tweaks to policy could be coming soon.
However, many analysts say they do not expect significant easing to begin until after China’s annual parliamentary session in March.
Goldman Sachs analysts said Saturday’s announcement showed “the government still needs to keep its zero-COVID policy until all preparations are done”.
This may take a few months, in our view,” they wrote, saying their “baseline” expectation was for a reopening in the April-June quarter.
The southern city of Guangzhou continued to report rising infections, with 66 new locally transmitted symptomatic and 1,259 asymptomatic cases, compared with 111 symptomatic and 635 asymptomatic cases a day before, authorities in the city of nearly 19 million people said.
China’s capital Beijing reported 43 symptomatic and six asymptomatic cases, compared with 37 symptomatic and five asymptomatic cases the previous day.
Nevertheless, about 30,000 runners, some wearing face masks, took part on a chilly and smoggy Sunday in the first Beijing Marathon since 2019.
Runners went past Tiananmen Square as they completed the race through the streets and highways of the Chinese capital.
The mood appeared festive, with some participants wearing colourful wigs, carrying flags, or high-fiving youngsters on the sidelines.
It was the first major sporting event in the Chinese capital since the Winter Olympics in February.