- Regular COVID testing is no longer required in several cities
- China eased several virus restrictions last Friday
- Communities concerned about virus spread under relaxed rules
- Major cities including Beijing report record cases for Nov. 13
BEIJING, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Several Chinese cities began phasing out routine community testing for COVID-19 on Monday, days after China announced an easing of some of its strict anti-coronavirus measures, sparking concern in some communities. as cases across the country continued to rise.
In the northern city of Shijiazhuang, some families raised concerns about exposing their children to the virus at school, giving excuses such as toothaches or earaches for their children’s absence, according to social media posts following a report. from state media that testing in the city would end. .
Other cities, including Yanji in the northeast and Hefei in the east, have also said they will halt routine community testing for COVID, according to official notices, ending a practice that has become a major fiscal burden on communities across China.
The National Health Commission updated its COVID regulations this Friday in the most significant way facilitating of restrictions yet, describing the changes as an “optimization” of its measures to soften the impact on people’s lives, even as China sticks to its zero-COVID policy nearly three years into the pandemic.
The move, which cut quarantine times for close contacts of the cases and incoming travelers by two days to a total of eight days, was applauded by investors, though many experts don’t expect China to begin significant easing until March. or April at the earliest.
The changes come even as several major cities, including Beijing, posted record infections on Monday, posing a challenge to authorities struggling to quell outbreaks quickly while trying to minimize the impact on people’s lives and the economy.
Some areas of Beijing require daily testing.
The concern and confusion in Shijiazhuang was one of the top five trending topics on Weibo, similar to Twitter.
The city’s Communist Party chief Zhang Chaochao said his “optimization” of prevention measures should not be seen as authorities “standing still” – an expression of inaction – nor Shijiazhuang moving towards “full liberation”. of COVID restrictions.
The city, about 295 kilometers (183 miles) southwest of Beijing, reported 544 infections on Sunday, only three of which it classified as symptomatic.
“I am a little scared. In the future, public places will not see nucleic acid testing, and nucleic acid testing points will also be closed, everyone needs to pay for testing,” one Weibo user wrote, referring to Shijiazhuang. .
Gavekal Research said in a note on Monday that it was a “curious time” for China to relax its COVID policies: “The combination of an intensifying outbreak and looser core requirements has led to a debate about whether China is now moving gradually towards a de facto policy of tolerating covid,” he said.
Nationwide, the National Health Commission reported 16,072 new locally transmitted cases, up from 14,761 on Sunday and the most in China since April 25, when Shanghai was battling an outbreak that locked the city down for two months.
Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou and Zhengzhou recorded their worst days so far, although in the capital city the count was in the few hundred cases, while the other cities counted in the thousands.
The number of cases is small compared to infection levels in other countries, but China’s insistence on stamping out outbreaks as soon as they emerge under its zero-COVID policy has been highly damaging to daily life and the economy.
Under new rules unveiled Friday, people, neighborhoods and public spaces may still be subject to closures, but the health commission relaxed some measures.
In addition to shortening quarantines, secondary close contacts are no longer identified and isolated, eliminating what had been a major inconvenience for people caught up in contact tracing efforts when a case is found.
Despite the easing of restrictions, many experts described the measures as incremental, with some predicting that China is unlikely to start reopening until after the March parliament session at the earliest.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs said on Monday that rising cases in cities such as Guangzhou and Chongqing and a continuation of the zero-COVID policy pose short-term downside economic risks.
Reporting by Liz Lee, Jason Xue, Wang Jing, and Ryan Woo; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore, Tony Munroe and Emelia Sithole-Matarise
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