In Shanghai, restaurants and bars in many neighborhoods are teeming with crowds. In Beijing, thousands of students are heading back to campus for the fall semester. In Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged eight months ago, water parks and night markets are packed elbow to elbow, buzzing like before.
While the United States and much of the world are still struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, life in many parts of China has in recent weeks become strikingly normal. Cities have relaxed social distancing rules and mask mandates, and crowds are again filling tourist sites, movie theaters and gyms.
“It no longer feels like there is something too frightful or too life-threatening out there,” said Xiong Xiaoyan, who works at a paint manufacturer in the southern province of Guangdong.
Xiong, who described the restrictions put in place to combat the virus as “suffocating,” recently visited a movie theater for the first time since the outbreak.
“When the lights turned dark, I felt I had returned to my normal life,” she said. “I could forget about everything outside and have my own spiritual world.”
The return to normalcy has made China an outlier in the global economy.
The United States is facing a potentially long and painful recession, as some places have reimposed restrictions to contend with a surge in cases this summer. Several countries in Europe have been experiencing fresh outbreaks, putting additional pressure on an already weak economy. By contrast, China has been slowly recovering in recent months, and its factories are humming again, although its growth is still weaker than before the pandemic, and job losses are significant.
It is a stark turnabout from the early days of the pandemic, when China was the epicenter of the outbreak and the authoritarian government imposed sweeping lockdowns. Across the country, life came to a halt and the economy cratered as people were forced to stay at home and shops largely shut down, except those selling essential goods.
In Wuhan, the streets were all but deserted, except for government vehicles and delivery drivers ferrying food and supplies. Hospitals were overrun with patients as nervous residents with coughs and fevers sought treatment. A sense of anger and anxiety permeated the city while residents grappled with a rapidly mounting death toll and uncertainty about when the lockdown would end.
Despite a delayed response and early missteps by the government, the recovery in China points to the success of the extreme tactics. After months of travel restrictions and citywide testing drives, locally transmitted cases of the virus in China are near zero, according to official data.
On Sunday, China reported no new locally transmitted cases for the seventh consecutive day. The 12 new infections it reported were all imported, bringing China’s total number of confirmed cases to 84,951, with at least 4,634 deaths. In the United States, nearly 5.7 million people have been infected and at least 176,200 have died.
Now many Chinese cities are once again hosting large events, though with some limits on crowd sizes, after months when such gatherings were banned entirely.
Qingdao, a seaside city in eastern China, is holding its popular beer festival this month largely as planned (face masks are optional). Shanghai recently held a gaming convention that attracted thousands of enthusiasts.
Many people are resuming old routines, with some modifications, hopeful that the worst has passed.