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SHANGHAI, 5 Dec 2022:

Several Chinese cities today relaxed PCR testing requirements after the government last week loosened anti-Covid-19 measures amid a wave of protests.

Negative PCR tests – the only legally valid type of Covid test in China – have long been necessary to enter places such as supermarkets, parks, shops and even residential complexes and housing buildings – giving rise to long lines at testing sites that have created discontent in the population.

Cities in the coastal province of Zhejiang – such as Ningbo and Hangzou – no longer required a negative PCR test from today to enter public transport and public spaces.

Ningbo authorities also declared it will not be necessary to scan a tracking code using mobile phones at the entrances to establishments – a practice carried out for almost two years to enable tracking and tracing.

Shanghai, north of Zhejiang, also does not require a negative test result for public transport and tourist attractions, although it is still necessary for restaurants and other public indoor spaces.

These cities join Guangzhou and Chongqing, which last week eased their PCR testing requirements, despite thousands of new daily cases – numbers that in the past would have inevitably led to lockdowns like those imposed this year in Shanghai, Xian and Wuhan.

In addition, some places allow people infected with Covid-19 and their close contacts to quarantine at home – which is a departure from the guidelines of recent years, requiring isolation in hospitals or quarantine centres, some of them in poor sanitary conditions.

For months, the purchase of medicines to treat fever or colds has been restricted and those who have bought them have had to register and undergo PCR tests days later, a measure that some cities such as Hangzhou have already cancelled.

On the other hand, establishments in the capital Beijing continue to ask customers for a negative PCR test carried out in the previous 48 hours, despite the fact that in recent days numerous testing stations – ubiquitous until now – have been closed in the big cities.

With residents still needing to prove to their workplaces that they are negative, the demand for PCR tests remains very high – only now there are now far fewer places to get them.

This has resulted in long queues, in some cases lasting several hours, at the testing sites that remained open during the weekend in which the temperatures in Beijing fell to -11°Celsius.

In addition, the large volume of tests needed meant that the reduced capacity fell short.

“This Sunday I stood in line for half an hour to be able to go to the office on Monday, but the result did not come out on time and I could not go,” a resident complained.

The people of Beijing made their discontent known across the country’s social media networks.

“The company asks me for a test every 24 hours. I have to stand in line for an hour while being cold. Enough already,” protested a user of Weibo, similar to Twitter, which is blocked in China.

Vice premier Sun Chunlan, in charge of the ‘zero Covid’ policy, assured last week that “with the decreasing toxicity of the omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate and the accumulating experience of outbreak control and prevention, China’s pandemic containment faces a new stage and mission.”

Some cities began to relax the strict ‘zero Covid’ prevention measures, which consist of isolating all those infected and their close contacts, strict border controls, partial or total lockdowns in places where cases are detected and consistent mass PCR testing.

The restrictions led to protests in cities across the country – such as Beijing, Shanghai, Canton and Wuhan – in which slogans such as “I don’t want a PCR, I want to eat” and “Give me back my freedom” were shouted, although in some instances they even called for the dismissal of president Xi Jinping and the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

According to official figures, since the beginning of the pandemic, 5,235 people have died in China, where some studies maintain that ‘zero Covid’ has saved millions of lives.