For months, investors and CEOs waited anxiously for China to ease up on its COVID restrictions, which burdened the economy and were out of sync with the rest of the world. Stock markets rallied on mere rumors of policy changes. Companies warned that "zero COVID” was hurting business.

Now that China has finally started rolling back its strict mix of mass testing, lockdowns and quarantines, its economy is entering a delicate period when it will face a set of challenges that do not fit neatly with other countries’ experiences during the pandemic.

Spending by consumers is unlikely to reawaken swiftly after being smothered for so long, analysts say. China faces a severe downturn in housing and must race to vaccinate more of its population, especially seniors. China’s factories, the motor of the country’s commerce with the world, confront weakening demand from key trading partners like the United States and Europe, both of which are staring down possible recessions.