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Chinese cities smooth sidewalks, but full zero-COVID exit seems a long way off

Chinese cities smooth sidewalks, but full zero-COVID exit seems a long way off
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BEIJING, Dec 4 (Reuters) – More Chinese cities, including Urumqi in the far west, announced an easing of coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as China tries to make its zero-COVID policy more targeted and less burdensome after protests. unprecedented against the restrictions last weekend.

Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region and where the protests first broke out, it will reopen shopping malls, markets, restaurants and other venues starting Monday, authorities said, ending strict lockdowns after months.

There were no signs of significant unrest this weekend, although police were present in the Liangmaqiao area of ​​Beijing and in Shanghai around Wulumuqi Road, which is named after Urumqi. Both sites saw protests a week ago.

A deadly fire last month in Urumqi sparked dozens of protests against COVID restrictions in more than 20 cities after some social media users said the victims had been unable to escape the blaze because their apartment building was closed. The authorities denied that.

The protests were an unprecedented display of civil disobedience in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

In the days since then, numerous cities have announced the easing of lockdowns, testing requirements and quarantine rules.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the virus’s ability to cause disease was weakening, a shift in messaging that aligns with what many health authorities around the world have been saying for more than a year.

China is set to announce further countrywide relaxation of testing requirements, as well as allowing positive cases and close contacts to isolate at home under certain conditions. people familiar with the matter he told Reuters last week.

RAISED RULES

So far, steps to ease restrictions have varied across the country.

People in Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant that was rocked last month by violent riots, will no longer have to show COVID test results to take public transportation, taxis and visit “areas public,” authorities said Sunday. . .

Karaoke bars, beauty salons, internet cafes and other indoor venues are allowed to reopen, but must check for a negative COVID test result within 48 hours.

In Shanghai, starting Monday, a negative COVID test will no longer be required to take public transportation and visit parks, authorities announced Sunday.

Elsewhere, both Nanning, capital of the southern Guangxi region, and Wuhan, the central city where the pandemic began in 2019, on Sunday lifted a requirement for a negative COVID test to take the subway.

Guangzhou Haizhu DistrictWhat did you experience violent clashes last monthHe said Sunday that from now on he advises people without COVID symptoms not to get tested for the virus unless they belong to certain special groups, such as front-line workers, or those with a red or yellow code.

In Beijing on Saturday, authorities said the purchase of medicines for fever, cough and sore throat no longer requires registration. The restriction was put in place because authorities believed people were using the drug to hide COVID infections.

Authorities in several districts of the capital have announced in recent days that people who test positive for the virus can quarantine at home.

Some inconsistencies as restrictions are eased have angered people, including the requirement in some places for a negative COVID test even though mass testing centers were closing.

In Beijing and Wuhan that led to long queues at the few remaining test booths.

“Are they stupid or just bad?” asked a social media user. “We shouldn’t be closing COVID testing stations until we get rid of the COVID test pass.”

new dairy The number of cases dropped across the country to 31,824, officials said Sunday, which may be partly because fewer people are getting tested. Authorities also reported two new COVID deaths.

‘GETTING READY FOR ZERO-COVID DEPARTURE’

Xi’s zero-COVID policy has had a devastating impact on the world’s second-largest economy and has disrupted global supply chains.

China argues that the policy, which has all but closed its borders to travel, is necessary to save lives and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.

Despite the easing of restrictions, many experts said China is unlikely to start a meaningful reopening before March at the earliest, given the need to ramp up vaccinations, especially among its large elderly population.

“While there have been quite a few local changes to COVID policies of late, we do not interpret these as China abandoning the zero-COVID policy yet,” Goldman Sachs said in a note on Sunday.

“Rather, we see them as clear evidence that the Chinese government is preparing for an exit and trying to minimize the economic and social cost of COVID control in the meantime. Preparations may take a few months and challenges are likely to come.” throughout the process.” road.”

Estimates of how many deaths China could see if it pivots toward a full reopening ranged from 1.3 million to more than 2 million, though some researchers said the number of deaths could drop dramatically if it focused on vaccination.

The authorities recently announced that they would speed up COVID vaccines for seniors but many remain reluctant to take the hit.

“Some people have doubts about the safety and efficacy of the country’s new coronavirus vaccine,” an article in the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said on Sunday.

“Experts say this perception is incorrect,” he said, adding that the domestically made vaccines were safe.

Foreign COVID vaccines are not approved in China and Xi is not willing to change that.t, US director of national intelligence Avril Haines said on Saturday.

Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Additional information from the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Tony Munroe, Lincoln Feast, Kirsten Donovan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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