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China posts 6-month high COVID count as it sticks with strategy

BEIJING — China on Sunday 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, likely disappointing recent investor hopes for an easing.

China recorded 4,420 new locally transmitted COVID-19 infections on Saturday, the National Health Commission said, the most since May 6 and compared up from 3,659 new local cases a day earlier.

While case numbers are extremely low by global standards, China has stuck with a zero-COVID approach nearly three years into the pandemic 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.”

Chinese stocks soared last week on rumors of a possible easing of the COVID curbs, and media reports that some tweaks to policy could be coming soon.

However, many analysts have said 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.

Still, the annual Beijing marathon took place on Sunday morning under strict COVID protocols, after being canceled the previous two years.

Some 26,000 participants registered for the event that began under smoggy skies in central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Runners were required to take PCR tests for the three days leading up to the race and not to leave Beijing for seven days. — Reuters

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