China hints at finally easing Covid-19 restrictions (updated)

Updated 3 Dec 2022:

Despite an easing of coronavirus restrictions in several cities across China, Beijing’s government on Saturday refuted rumours of a complete opening up.

It said that the epidemic still remained at “a high level” in the city and therefore, could not be “taken lightly.”

The Chinese capital, which is facing its worst-ever Covid-19 outbreak, had announced yesterday that people would no longer be required to show a negative result from a PCR test in order to use public transport.

The authorities also said that hospitals would not be able to refuse entry to patients who do not present a negative nucleic acid test result.

Despite the reopening of several malls, most establishments and public places continue to require a negative PCR test conducted 48 hours prior to entry.

This means residents have to continue to get tested to enter their office or eat in a restaurant but, following a large-scale closure of testing booths, now face long queues due to a reduced number of booths.

Guangzhou, which for weeks has been battling an outbreak that has resulted in thousands of daily new cases, has been gradually easing restrictions since the middle of the week.

“In my district it is no longer necessary to show a negative PCR test result to enter establishments,” said a resident.

The lifting of restrictions came after people living in parts of the city that were under lockdown clashed with police this week.

The record figures being seen in Guangzhou would have, in the past, inevitably led to a widespread lockdown such as those imposed in Wuhan, Shanghai and Xian, among others.

Instead, the city, with a population of over 10 million, has reopened malls, restaurants and public transport services, marking a departure from the policy followed by China for more than two years.

Chinese netizens have even shared videos of the local government’s press conferences in recent days, in which spokespersons and officials remove their masks before the start of the conference – as a sign of a shift from the country’s strict “zero-Covid” policy.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring Shenzhen city also announced Saturday that a negative PCR result was no longer mandatory to use public transport or enter parks and tourist attractions.

However, residents will still have to attest through a monitoring application that they have not travelled through an at-risk area.

BEIJING, 2 Dec 2022:

After several cities in China eased coronavirus restrictions following protests in recent days, the country’s authorities said conditions are in place for the country to adjust its anti-pandemic measures.

Vice premier Sun Chunlan, who is in charge of supervising the country’s “zero Covid” policy, yesterday said the weakening pathogenicity of the virus and the high vaccination rate of more than 90% of the population – among other factors – “created the conditions for tweaking the epidemic response measures,” state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

On Wednesday, the official held a meeting with experts from the National Health Commission in which she heard the “opinions and suggestions of frontline workers on improving epidemic containment measures” and said the country was facing a “new situation.”

Guangzhou and Shenzhen recently announced the lifting of several pandemic-related restrictions.

Some of their districts will also allow some of the close contacts of the infected to isolate themselves at home instead of in special quarantine centres – which represents a major shift from the government’s current policy.

For over two years, China has clung to its “zero-Covid” policy – which consists of isolating all those infected as well as their close contacts, strict border controls, restrictions on movement and massive PCR test campaigns wherever a case is detected.

Isolation is among the most controversial aspects of the policy given that cities sometimes have to resort to temporary and prefabricated facilities with poor sanitation and problems with access to medical care.

Guangzhou, which recorded anti-Covid protests in the past week, has for weeks been battling an outbreak that has resulted in thousands of daily new cases.

Such figures in the past would have inevitably led to a widespread lockdown – such as those imposed in Wuhan, Shanghai and Xian, among others.

However, despite more than 5,000 infections being recorded in the city yesterday, the city’s residents said some malls and other establishments have stopped asking customers to show negative PCR tests carried out in the previous 48 hours.

However, they still have to attest through a monitoring application that they have not travelled through an at-risk area.

PCR tests conducted within 72 hours are required in Chinese cities to access public spaces such as supermarkets, parks and stores, giving rise to long lines at the testing booths that have stoked discontent among the population.

There has been a large-scale closure of PCR testing booths in the Chinese capital, which is facing its worst-ever Covid-19 outbreak which has led to multiple lockdowns in the city.

However, unlike in Guangzhou, public places in Beijing continue to require a negative PCR test carried out within 48 hours prior to entry.

This means residents have to continue to get tested to enter their office, take public transport or eat in a restaurant but now face long queues due to a reduced number of testing booths.

According to official figures, 5,233 people have died in China since the start of the pandemic.

– EFE