China COVID numbers hit record, economic outlook darkens

STORY: China reported a record number of COVID-19 infections on Thursday (November 24).

31,444 new local cases on Wednesday - breaking the previous high set on April 13, when commercial hub Shanghai was in a lockdown that would last two months.

Now cities nationwide are imposing localized lockdowns, mass testing, and other curbs that are darkening the outlook for the world's second largest economy.

The streets of Chaoyang, the capital's most populous district, have been increasingly empty this week.

Sanlitun, a high-end shopping area, was nearly silent on Thursday but for the whirring of the e-bikes of delivery riders ferrying meals for those working from home.

The surge in infections is diminishing investors' hopes that China will soon ease the rigid zero-COVID policy that, alongside a downturn in the property market, is battering the economy.

It's been nearly three years since the pandemic first emerged in the central city of Wuhan.

The restrictions have also exacted a toll on China's increasingly frustrated residents, like this Beijing local.

"Only by easing the COVID-19 restrictions can people live a normal life. Otherwise, everything’s halted. How many people have the savings to support them if things continually stay halted? And even if you have money to stay at home everyday, that's not true living, that's lingering on the last breath of air."

While official infection tallies are low by global standards, China tries to stamp out every infection chain, making it a global outlier.

China's leadership has stuck by its zero-COVID policy, which includes some of the strictest restrictions in the world, saying it is necessary to save lives and prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed.

Factory output has taken a hit from the measures, including the world's biggest iPhone plant, which has been rocked by violent clashes between workers and security personnel in a rare show of dissent.

Acknowledging the pressure on the economy, the cabinet said China would use timely cuts in bank cash reserves and use other monetary policy tools to make sure there is enough liquidity, state media reported on Wednesday.