“My feeling now is that everyone is afraid of testing positive, and those who are timid dare not go out,” she said. Relaxing the country’s Covid rules is a good first step, but the government needs to do more to support ordinary people and small businesses, Ms. Zheng said, adding that “nothing is certain at the moment.”
Ting Lu, chief China economist for Nomura, a Japanese brokerage, said he wasn’t “too optimistic” about a sharp recovery in the Chinese economy, because he expects continued disruptions from an overwhelmed health care system and a surge in infections. He added that he expected pent-up demand in the economy to be “relatively weak” next year after three years of lockdowns depleted the finances of many Chinese households.
Part of the uncertainty hanging over how China will emerge from “zero Covid” is that no country of this size has pivoted this quickly, this drastically — shifting seemingly overnight from full-on assault against Covid to learning to live with the virus. Long-established rules are changing by the day.
As of last week, asymptomatic or light cases no longer required hospital stays. All restrictions on purchasing flu and pain relief medication were also lifted, igniting a run on fever pills and even some traditional Chinese medicines. On Tuesday, China also disabled a travel tracking app, one of many smartphone apps that the government used to keep tabs on the whereabouts of Chinese citizens to assess their Covid risk.
Two months ago, before throngs of people took to the streets to protest the government’s draconian Covid policies, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, said Covid posed such a grave public health risk that fighting the virus required an “all-out war.”
“It’s amazing how in two weeks the entire control system has evaporated,” Mr. Wuttke said. “What does this do to business? I don’t know.”
Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said when Australia and New Zealand abandoned their zero-Covid ambitions last year, they were able to do so somewhat successfully because they had implemented “effective vaccination programs with effective vaccines.”