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China. Beijing eases health restrictions in wake of protests

China.  Beijing eases health restrictions in wake of protests

Chinese anger and frustration with Beijing’s tough line on the fight against the pandemic spilled onto the streets of the country last weekend, a mobilization on a scale not seen in decades.

In the aftermath, several cities have begun to ease health restrictions, such as abandoning mass daily testing, one of the tedious pillars of life under the reign of “zero-Covid”.

From Friday, the metropolis of Chengdu (southwest) will no longer require a recent negative test result to enter public places or take the subway, but only a health pass to green, confirming that they have no not crossed a “high risk” area.

The authorities are letting go

In the capital, Beijing, health authorities called on hospitals on Thursday to stop refusing care in the absence of a negative PCR test dating back less than 48 hours.

China has seen a spate of deaths, when treatment or rescue has been delayed by strict anti-Covid measures, in particular the recent death of a four-month-old baby stuck in quarantine with his father. In January, a pregnant woman from the city of Xi’an also lost her baby, after the hospital refused to take her in for lack of a PCR test.

The deaths have been a rallying cry during the protests, with a post going viral on social media listing the names of all those who have died due to neglect related to health restrictions. Many other cities hit by a surge in coronavirus cases are now allowing restaurants, shopping malls and even schools to reopen, a clear departure from the strict lockdown rules that have prevailed so far.

Urumqi, symbolic city

In the city of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region (northwest), where a deadly fire had sparked the first demonstrations, the authorities announced on Friday that supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts would gradually be reopened.

This city of more than four million people has suffered one of the longest lockdowns in China, with some neighborhoods closed in early August. An apartment building fire on November 26 killed 10 people there, and restrictions have been blamed for delaying relief.

Home quarantine?

In an analysis published this Friday by the People’s Daily, organ of the ruling Communist Party, several health experts support the measures taken by some local authorities to allow positive cases to remain in quarantine at home.

This is a dramatic change from the rules that prevailed until then, which in much of the country still require infected people to be confined to government facilities.

The industrial city of Dongguan (south) announced Thursday that people meeting “specific conditions” should be allowed to remain in quarantine at home, without specifying what these conditions are. The tech megalopolis of Shenzhen, also in the south, rolled out a similar policy on Wednesday.

A political discourse that softens?

At the national level, government officials have also signaled that a broader relaxation of the policy could be considered. Speaking to the National Health Commission on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan acknowledged the low risk of the Omicron variant and the improvement in the vaccination rate, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. This is why China’s approach to the virus “is facing new circumstances”, she said.

A central figure in China’s strategy in the face of the pandemic, Ms. Sun made no mention of the “zero Covid” policy, raising hopes that this strategy, which for three years has disrupted the lives of Chinese people and the economy of their country, would soon be relaxed.

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