China set to loosen COVID curbs after week of historic protests

  • China to Allow Home Quarantine, Reduce Mass Testing – Sources
  • The top official says that the intensity of the virus is weakening.
  • Change comes after a series of protests.
  • The largest demonstration of public opposition in years

HONG KONG/BEIJING, Dec 1 (Reuters) – China is poised to announce a relaxation of its COVID-19 quarantine protocols and a reduction in mass testing in the coming days, sources told Reuters, amid worldwide outrage. A sharp change in policy followed by stricter restrictions fueled mass protests.

Cases across the country are near record highs but the changes come as some cities lift their lockdowns in recent days, and a top official said the virus’ ability to cause disease is weakening.

Health officials did not mention the protests in their regions announcing the crackdown – China’s biggest show of civil disobedience in years – which ranged from candlelight vigils in Beijing to street clashes with police in Guangzhou.

Sources familiar with the matter said measures to be unveiled include mass testing and a reduction in the use of routine nucleic acid tests, as well as home isolation of positive cases and close contacts under certain circumstances. Authorization steps are included.

This is a far cry from earlier protocols that led to public frustration as entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, even after just one positive case.

Disappointment erupted last week in mass protests across mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

On Thursday night, passengers on a Shanghai train reported receiving an unsolicited document wirelessly on their phones that said life in China would only improve if the lockdown was lifted completely. And for Xi Jinping to leave office – an apparently new tactic amid a heavy police presence in the city ahead of the weekend.

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Conversion rules

Less than 24 hours after violent protests in Guangzhou on Tuesday, officials in at least seven districts in the sprawling manufacturing hub said they were lifting temporary lockdowns. One district said it would allow schools, restaurants and businesses, including movie theaters, to reopen.

Cities including Chongqing and Zhengzhou also announced relaxations.

A sense of official momentum toward a historic change was made Thursday when Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees the COVID effort, told a meeting of frontline experts that the Omicron variant was weakening in its ability to cause the disease. is, giving China an opportunity to improve its prevention efforts.

“After fighting the epidemic for nearly three years, our country’s medical and health care system has withstood the test,” he said in remarks published by state news agency Xinhua.

“The vaccination rate of the entire population is over 90 percent and public health awareness and quality have improved significantly,” he said.

State media reported Sun a day earlier as saying that China was facing a “new situation” in its response to COVID, and that it called for further “improvement” of testing, treatment and quarantine policies.

The mention of weakening COVID pathogenicity contrasts with previous messages from Ajab Suraj about the ultimate limit of the virus.

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“In addition to the notable easing of COVID control measures in Guangzhou last day, Sun’s (earlier) speech gives another strong indication that a zero-COVID policy is in place in the next few months,” Nomura analysts said in a research note. will end.”

“These two events probably signal the beginning of the end of zero-COVID.”

Some communities in the capital, Beijing, have begun preparing for the changes.

A community east of the city held an online poll this week on the possibility of positive cases being isolated at home, residents said.

“I certainly welcome the decision by our residential community to run this vote, regardless of the outcome,” said Tom Simpson, managing director for China at the China-UK Business Council.

He said his main concern was being forced into a quarantine facility, where “conditions can be dire to say the least”.

Prominent nationalist commentator Hu Zhijin said in a social media post on Wednesday that many asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus in Beijing were already self-quarantining at home.

Reopening next year?

Expectations have grown around the world that China, trying to contain infections, may try to reopen its borders sometime next year once it achieves better vaccination rates among its reluctant elderly.

Health experts have warned of mass illness and death if COVID is unleashed before vaccination is ramped up.

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Chinese stocks and markets around the world initially fell after weekend protests in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, but later recovered on hopes that public pressure could prompt a new approach from authorities. Is.

The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that further Covid-19 outbreaks could weigh on China’s economic activity in the near future, adding that it saw scope for a safe recovery of policies that would accelerate economic growth in 2023. may allow.

China’s tough containment measures have slowed domestic economic activity this year and spilled over into other countries through supply chain disruptions.

Factory activity declined for a fourth straight month in November, the Caixin/S&P Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index reported on Wednesday, following disappointing data from an official survey.

While the change in tone on COVID reflects public discontent with tougher measures, authorities are also trying to interrogate those at the protests.

China Dissent Monitor, run by the US government-funded Freedom House, estimated that at least 27 protests took place across China from Saturday to Monday. Australia’s ASPI think tank estimated 51 protests in 24 cities.

(This story has been refiled to correct story writing credit)

Additional reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Kevin Huang and Alan Zhang in Beijing; Written by Marius Zaharia, John Geddy and Greg Torwood; Edited by Michael Perry, Robert Brussell and Conor Humphreys

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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