China set to ease COVID restrictions after historic week of protests

  • China to allow home quarantine and reduce mass testing – sources
  • Senior official affirms severity of weakening virus
  • The change comes after a series of protests
  • The biggest demonstration of public defiance in a decade

BEIJING, Dec 1 (Reuters) – China is expected to announce in the coming days a relaxation of its COVID-19 quarantine protocols and a reduction in mass testing, sources told Reuters, a marked shift in policy after anger at the world’s toughest curbs fueled widespread protests.

Nationwide cases remain near record highs, but the changes come as some cities have lifted their lockdowns in recent days, and a senior official said the virus’ ability to cause disease is weakening.

Health authorities announcing appeasement in their areas did not mention the protests – the biggest show of civil disobedience in China in years, ranging from candlelight vigils in Beijing to street clashes with police in Guangzhou.

Measures to be unveiled include a reduction in mass testing and regular nucleic acid testing and measures to allow positive cases and close contacts to self-isolate at home under certain conditions, sources familiar with the matter said. .

That’s a far cry from previous protocols that caused public frustration as entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after even a single positive case.

Frustration boiled over last week during demonstrations of public defiance not seen in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, and comes as the economy is about to enter a new era of growth much slower than that observed for decades.

MODIFY THE RULES

Less than 24 hours after violent protests in Guangzhou on Tuesday, authorities in at least seven districts of 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 like Chongqing and Zhengzhou also announced relaxations.

Adding to the sense of a change in leadership, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said the virus’ ability to cause disease was weakening, state media reported.

“The country faces a new situation and new tasks in epidemic prevention and control as the pathogenicity of Omicron virus weakens, more people are vaccinated, and the experience to contain the virus s ‘accumulates,’ Sun said in comments reported by state media.

Sun also called for further “optimization” of testing, treatment and quarantine policies.

The mention of waning pathogenicity contrasts with earlier messages from authorities about the lethality of the virus.

“Sun’s speech, in addition to the notable relaxation of COVID control measures in Guangzhou yesterday, sends another strong signal that the zero-COVID policy will end in the coming months,” Nomura analysts said in a statement. research note.

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

In the capital, Beijing, some communities have begun to prepare for the changes.

A community in the city’s east end held an online poll this week about the possibility of positive cases isolating at home, residents said.

“I certainly welcome the decision of our residential community to hold this vote regardless of the outcome,” said resident Tom Simpson, China-Britain Business Council managing director.

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

Prominent nationalist commentator Hu Xijin said in a social media post on Wednesday that many asymptomatic coronavirus carriers in Beijing were already under quarantine at home.

REOPENING NEXT YEAR?

Around the world, China, while trying to contain infections, is expected to consider reopening its borders at some point next year once it achieves better vaccination rates among his hesitant elderly.

Health experts warn of widespread illness and death if COVID is released before vaccination is accelerated.

Chinese stocks and markets around the world initially fell after weekend protests in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, but then rallied on hopes that public pressure could lead to a new approach of the authorities.

Further COVID outbreaks could weigh on China’s economic activity in the short term, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, adding that it sees room for a safe recalibration of policies that could allow economic growth to pick up. resume in 2023.

China’s strict containment measures have dampened domestic economic activity this year and spread to other countries through supply chain disruptions.

After pessimistic data in an official survey on Wednesday, the Caixin/S&P Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index showed factory activity fell in November for a fourth consecutive month. Read more

While the change of tone on COVID appears as a response to public discontent with strict measures, the authorities are also look for to interview those present at the demonstrations.

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. Australian think tank ASPI estimated 51 protests in 24 cities.

Additional reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Kevin Huang and Ellen Zhang in Beijing; Written by Marius Zaharia and John Geddie; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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