China may have significantly eased the way it responds to Covid-19 outbreaks, but some major cities still barely move when the virus is spreading.
There were dramatic declines in the number of people on the subway in a slew of China’s largest cities this week, including major economic powerhouses like Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing, despite the updated measures that ended mass testing and citywide lockdowns.
Each metropolitan area saw a spike in cases, as the number of local daily infections across the country climbed past 24,000.
On some recent days in Chongqing, subway usage plummeted 91 percent, according to data. The drop follows the steep decline in Shanghai earlier in 2022 when it was locked down for two months.
The reduction in movement shows that even with fewer hardcore restrictions, China’s major cities are likely to see roughly the same hit to mobility and activity whenever outbreaks flare, dampening hopes of a boost to the country’s economy after the easing of its strict zero-Covid-19 regime.
A web of targeted new rules for high-risk areas and fear of the coronavirus amid proliferating infections have had a similar immobilizing effect on the population.
Western Chinese metropolis Chongqing city’s subway ridership is down more than 80 percent this week, compared with the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. Meanwhile, its daily new local Covid-19 cases have doubled since the weekend, surpassing 4,600 on Thursday.
While officials in Beijing have recognized the damage citywide lockdowns can do to the world’s second-largest economy, they insist on stamping out infections with a more targeted approach. The goal is to ground people most likely to spread the virus.
But fewer restrictions and scaled-back testing means stealthy Omicron variants have had more opportunity to spread silently, potentially seeding infections and leading to additional movement curbs that amount to de facto citywide or district-wide lockdowns.
The subway in Beijing is ferrying a little more than half the typical number of commuters this week compared with 2019, as the major business district Chaoyang is a hot spot of Covid-19 spread.
The Baidu Map app shows that some major roads in the district, notorious for heavy congestion during peak hours, have been largely open and flowing smoothly this week.
Even when people are allowed to move, many have refrained from venturing out for fear they could catch the virus at a time when mass testing has abated.
Despite being an onerous practice, frequent, comprehensive testing does provide a clear picture of where Covid-19 is circulating.
The government has largely rolled back restrictions and is allowing people to move freely in many areas, even those that have detected infections.
How many residents are taking advantage of the offer is less clear.