Relief and concern as major Chinese cities ease COVID restrictions

Relief and concern as major Chinese cities ease COVID restrictions
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  • The relaxation comes after weeks of historic protests
  • Restrictions have hit the world’s second-largest economy
  • Nationwide easing measures expected soon: sources

BEIJING, Dec 2 (Reuters) – The further relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements and quarantine rules in some Chinese cities was greeted with a mix of relief and concern on Friday as hundreds of millions awaited a long-awaited change. in national virus policies after widespread social unrest.

The looser measures were welcomed by workers frustrated by three years of economically damaging restrictions, but have rattled others who suddenly feel more at risk of a disease that authorities had consistently described as deadly until this week.

The elderly, many of whom are not yet vaccinated, feel more vulnerable.

Shi Wei, a Beijing resident suffering from lymphatic cancer, spends most of his time in isolation, but still worries about contracting COVID and giving it to his 80-year-old mother as he leaves every three weeks for hospital treatment.

“I can only pray that God protects me,” he said.

China’s COVID policies have stifled everything from domestic consumption to factory production to global supply chains, inflicting severe mental stress on hundreds of millions of people.

Anger for the world’s toughest sidewalks fueled dozens of protests in more than 20 cities in recent days in a display of civil disobedience unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

Less than 24 hours after people clashed with white riot police officers in hazmat suits in Guangzhou, a sprawling manufacturing hub north of Hong Kong, on Tuesday, the city lifted lockdowns in at least seven of its districts. .

“Finally, we can slowly return to our normal life,” said Lili, 41, who works for a restaurant chain in Guangzhou that was allowed to reopen on Thursday.

Lockdown breaks in recent years have resulted in a 30% drop in profits, he said.

“The public couldn’t take it anymore and they all wished we could reopen… The Guangzhou government probably heard what we were asking for and thought it was time,” Lili said.

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

On Friday, some neighborhoods in the capital Beijing posted guidelines on how positive cases can be dealt with on social media. quarantined at homein a historic move.

That is in stark contrast to scenes of chaos earlier this year when cases were frantically sent to centralized facilities while their communities were under lockdown, sometimes for weeks. Last month, the easier rules required only the closure of specific buildings.


Some communities now also require less frequent testing and allow close contacts of infected people to self-quarantine at home, according to state media, measures that are expected to be rolled out across the country in the coming days.

China is ready to announce a nationwide reduction in the frequency of mass testing and regular nucleic acid testing, as well as allowing positive cases and close contacts to self-isolate at home under certain conditions, sources told Reuters. familiar with the matter earlier this week.

Chengdu and Tianjin, among China’s largest cities, announced they will no longer require subway users to test negative for COVID starting Friday, another relaxation of the restriction imposed to stop the transmission of the virus in crowded public spaces. . Beijing will remove this requirement from Monday.

On Friday, some supermarkets in Beijing also stopped requiring negative test results as a condition of entry.

A residential community in eastern Beijing sent out a notice on Friday to say that those who “have no social activities”, such as the elderly and homebound babies, no longer need to be tested regularly.

Several testing booths in the area have stopped working and the number of people getting tested has dropped by up to 30%, a staff member said. Still, the nearby park remained closed, while restaurants and cafes were only selling takeout.

Earlier in the year, entire communities were locked down after just one positive case, with people stuck indoors losing income, having little access to basic necessities and struggling to cope with isolation.

Some areas in Guangzhou have resumed dinning services and residents are no longer required to submit negative PCR tests to enter, state media reported.

The city also removed a rule that only people with a negative COVID test could buy fever medicine without a prescription, a policy meant to prevent people with COVID from hiding their illness.

In nearby Shenzhen, some people will be allowed to quarantine at home. Some 1,000 km to the west, in Chongqing, a variety of businesses, from hair salons to gyms, have been allowed to reopen.

But many communities designated high-risk by various cities remain on lockdown and many people still need daily testing.

“Elevated mood is not universal,” said a Guangzhou-based diplomat. “While many people are enjoying a newfound freedom, it’s worth noting that hundreds of high-risk areas are still on lockdown across the city.”

Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Albee Zhang, Ryan Woo, and the Beijing newsroom; Written by Marius Zaharia and John Geddie; Edited by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel, William Maclean

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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