More Chinese cities easing Covid curbs

More Chinese cities easing Covid curbs

Xi Jinping reportedly acknowledges that managing omicron requires a new strategy

Workers in protective gear take a break from spraying disinfectant in public buses in Shenzhen, China, on Nov 19. (Reuters Photo)
Workers in protective gear take a break from spraying disinfectant in public buses in Shenzhen, China, on Nov 19. (Reuters Photo)

The southern Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen has ended mandatory Covid testing to enter public venues, joining a growing list of local authorities easing the strict social curbs imposed across the country since the pandemic broke out three years ago.

Covid test results are no longer needed in Shenzhen, which borders on Hong Kong, to enter public transport, drug stores, parks and outdoor tourism spots, according to announcements issued by the local government on Saturday.

Earlier this week, Beijing and the southern manufacturing hub Guangzhou lifted some of their restrictions even as virus infections fanned the worst outbreak since the crisis began.

Top central government officials this week signalled a transition away from the harshest containment measures, soon after anti-lockdown protests erupted across China.

The government’s goal to eliminate the virus has become harder to enforce since the arrival of the more infectious omicron variant. New daily cases have topped 35,000 nationwide but the vast majority are asymptomatic. As a result, citizens have been growing more angry with every stepped-up attempt to crush the virus by restricting movement.

In the face of a new strain that is seen as milder than its predecessors, repeated lockdowns, mass testing and other impositions that limit activity and slow the economy are no longer seen as useful.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan — the one leader besides President Xi Jinping who has been most closely associated with zero Covid — struck a new tone at a meeting this week saying the “fight against the pandemic is at a new stage and it comes with new tasks” as omicron is less pathogenic and as more people get vaccinated.

The less-lethal omicron variant is now the prevalent Covid strain in China, Xi told European Council President Charles Michel at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday, according to an EU official who was briefed on the meeting.

If confirmed, Xi’s comments would be the first public acknowledgment that the virus is weakening, adding to suggestions China’s leadership is moving toward further loosening of strict zero Covid policies.

Beijing on Saturday denied rumours circulating online that claim the capital would soon embark on a full reopening, including a halt to society-wide Covid tests. The speculation is untrue, the official Beijing Daily reported, citing the municipal government.

While the city’s overall Covid situation is stabilising, infections are still elevated and widely spread, according to the report. The city will continue with tests and quarantines to contain an increase in cases, it said.

Other evidence of a softening tone this week added to cautious optimism that China’s mindset about Covid has turned a corner.

For example, authorities in Beijing said hospitals and public transport can’t reject people who are unable to provide negative Covid test results taken within the previous 48 hours.

Beijing will now allow some people infected with the virus to isolate at home, starting with residents of the city’s most-populous district. Bus and subway operators have also been warned not to reject passengers who don’t have negative Covid test results taken within 48 hours.

Chengdu cancelled a rule requiring citizens to show negative test results to enter public venues such as malls and supermarkets.

Southern Guangdong province said close contacts who meet certain requirements can remain at home instead of going to centralised isolation facilities.

Guangdong’s capital Guangzhou later replaced lockdowns with more targeted restrictions, similar to a move announced in Zhengzhou, home to  the huge Foxconn manufacturing site that supplies millions of Apple iPhones every year.

Beijing, Guangzhou and Hebei province have ended a requirement to register before residents can buy medication for fever and coughs, antivirals and antibiotics, 21st Century Business Herald reported on Saturday, citing government notices.


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