China posts six-month high in COVID infections

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.

While its case numbers continue to be relatively low compared to other developed nations nearly three years into the pandemic, China has continued to stick with a zero-COVID approach that involves lockdowns, quarantines, frequent testing and a drastic decrease in inbound travel.

China recorded 4,420 new locally transmitted COVID-19 infections on Saturday (5 November), the National Health Commission said, the most since May 6 and up from 3,659 new local cases a day earlier.

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.”

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.

Indeed, Chinese stocks climbed 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”.