BEIJING ( Associated Press) – After three years of lockdowns brought them to the brink of closure, restaurant owner Li Meng and his wife hope business will pick up after China lifts strict coronavirus controls.
As sales slowly pick up again, they face a new challenge: Diners wary of a wave of infections sweeping the country. At 8 pm on Wednesday night, only three of their 20 tables were occupied.
China is on a bumpy road back to normal life with schools, malls and restaurants reopening after the abrupt end of some of the world’s most severe restrictions, even as hospitals flood with COVID-19 patients Is.
“Many continue to live cautiously for fear of being infected,” Li said. “For now they can postpone going out to dinner.”
In November, the ruling Communist Party began lifting coronavirus tests, quarantines and other restrictions as it tries to stave off a deep economic downturn.
The “Zero COVID” strategy confined millions of families to their homes for weeks, halted most travel in and out of China, and emptied the bustling streets of major cities. It kept the infection rate low but crushed economic growth and stoked protests.
“People are going back to work and I have seen children in shopping malls,” said 28-year-old Yang Mingyu, a Beijing resident. “Everything is back to normal. It’s really good”.
The ruling party is joining the United States and other governments in trying to live with the disease rather than eliminate transmission. According to experts, it has launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly to avoid a public health crisis.
Citizens expressed their dismay over the rise in infections, but welcomed the change in strategy.
“I’m definitely a little worried, but in order to live you have to be able to function normally, right?” said Yu Hongzhu, 40, a supermarket manager.
“Since the government has allowed the opening, it means it’s not so terrible, right?” Yu said. “If the virus was highly contagious and everyone’s life was in danger, the government would not allow it.”
On Tuesday, the government announced it would ease travel restrictions outside China and resume issuing passports for tourist travel for the first time in nearly three years. It leaves open the possibility of a rush of Chinese travelers abroad, at a time when other governments are worried about rising infections.
Associated Press video producers Olivia Zhang and Wayne Zhang contributed to this report.