Some people in China’s main cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, are braving the cold and a spike in COVID-19 infections to resume their regular activity, confident that the economy will gain a boost as more people recover from infections.

Among those gathered to sled or skate on a frozen lake in the capital’s Shichahai Lake Park, some were optimistic about the opening after China dropped strict “zero COVID” measures on December 7 to adopt a strategy for living with the virus.

Since then, however, a wave of infections has erupted across the country after nearly closing the borders for three years amid a strict regime of lockdowns and relentless testing.

“The epidemic… hasn’t given us a chance to come and play,” said Yang, one of those at the park, who gave only one name.

“After the end of this lockdown, we no longer need to scan the health code and also the travel code. So we are now free.”

Zhong, a 22-year-old student who was also at the lake, said he didn’t leave home for two or three weeks after being infected.

“Now I can go out and it’s a good timing for the New Year holidays. I want to walk around Beijing, see and feel the party atmosphere.”

Traffic is returning to the capital’s roads as people quickly return to outdoor locations such as lakes, rivers and shopping malls. But business is still slow in some smaller, private places like restaurants, owners said.

“Work output, life and entertainment are all returning to normal levels,” a man nicknamed Wu told Reuters news agency on the riverside in the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago.

People who were infected weren’t as anxious anymore, added Wu, a tutor at a private training center.

China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, will begin on January 21 this year, when the rail network is expected to carry 5.5 million passengers, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Amid the expected wave of holiday travel, authorities at Tibet’s spectacular Potala Palace said it would reopen to visitors from January 3, after closing in August last year due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Some hotels in the tourist resort of Sanya on the southern island of Hainan are already fully booked for the Lunar New Year, according to media reports.

In recent days, the state media has tried to reassure the public that the COVID-19 outbreak was under control and nearing its peak.

More than 80 percent of residents in southwestern Sichuan province have been infected, China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday.

But another COVID death on Monday — level with the day before — among China’s population of 1.4 billion doesn’t match the experience of other countries after they reopened.

China’s official death toll of 5,250 since the start of the pandemic compares to more than a million in the United States. China-administered Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 million, has reported more than 11,000 deaths.

About 9,000 people in China are likely to die from COVID-19 every day, UK-based health data company Airfinity said last week.

The cumulative number of deaths in China since December 1 has likely reached 100,000, with infections at 18.6 million, it said.

Airfinity expects COVID infections in China to reach their first peak on January 13, with 3.7 million daily infections.

China has said it only counts COVID patient deaths from pneumonia and respiratory failure as COVID-related.

The relatively low number of deaths is also inconsistent with the rising demand reported by funeral homes in several cities.

The lifting of curbs following widespread protests in November has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes, with public concern sparked by scenes of people on roadside IVs and rows of hearses outside crematoriums.



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