Relief and concern as major Chinese cities ease Covid restrictions

  • The easing comes after a week of historic protests
  • Restrictions have hit the world’s second-largest economy
  • Nationwide easing measures expected soon – sources

BEIJING, Dec 2 (Reuters) – A further relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements and quarantine rules in some Chinese cities was met with a mix of relief and concern on Friday as hundreds of millions of people await an expected change in national virus policies after widespread social distancing. Restlessness.

The relaxed measures were welcomed by workers frustrated by three years of economically damaging restrictions, but shocked others who felt the sudden overexposure to a disease that officials until this week had consistently described as deadly.

The elderly, many of whom are still unvaccinated, feel particularly vulnerable.

Shi Wei, a Beijing resident suffering from lymphoma, spends most of her time in isolation, but still worries about passing it on to her 80-year-old mother, who has contracted Covid when she goes out for hospital treatment every three weeks.

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

China’s Covid policies have crippled everything from domestic consumption, factory output and global supply chains, causing severe stress on hundreds of millions of people.

Anger over the world’s strictest restrictions, unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, has sparked dozens of demonstrations in more than 20 cities in recent days.

Asked about the protests in an interview with French television on Friday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the US supported demonstrators’ “freedom to express themselves and show their frustration”.

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Less than 24 hours after people clashed with white hazmat-suited riot police 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 lives,” said Lilly, 41, who works at a chain of restaurants in Guangzhou that was allowed to reopen Thursday.

Lockdown disruptions have resulted in a 30% drop in revenue in the past few years, he said.

“The public couldn’t take it anymore and everyone wanted us to be able to reopen … Maybe the Guangzhou government heard us and thought the time had come,” Lilly said.

Sun Chunlan, the vice premier overseeing the COVID efforts, said this week that the virus’s ability to cause disease is weakening — consistent with what health officials around the world have been saying for more than a year.

Although government officials in cities that lifted lockdowns did not mention protests in their announcements, national health officials said China would address “urgent concerns” expressed by the public.

Back to the barber

Some communities now require less testing and allow close contacts of victims to isolate at home, according to state media, and the measures are expected to be rolled out across the country in the coming days.

China is set to announce a nationwide reduction in how frequent mass testing and routine nucleic acid tests will be conducted, allowing positive cases and close contacts to self-isolate under certain conditions, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Chengdu and Tianjin, China’s largest cities, announced that subway users will no longer need to show negative COVID tests starting Friday, another relaxation of restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus in crowded public spaces.

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Some communities in Beijing and elsewhere have already allowed close contacts of people carrying the virus to self-isolate at home, while some shopping malls in the capital have reopened since Thursday.

A residential community in eastern Beijing sent out a notice on Friday saying “there are no social measures,” meaning elderly people and children who go home will no longer need to be tested regularly.

Several checkpoints in the region have stopped functioning and the number of people being tested has dropped by up to 30%, an employee said. However, the nearby park was closed, while restaurants and cafes only sold takeaway.

At the start of the year, entire communities were locked down for weeks, and even after a single positive case, people were stuck indoors, losing income, struggling to cope with poor access to basic needs and isolation.

Some areas in Guangzhou have resumed dining services, and residents are no longer asked to present negative PCR tests to enter, state media reported.

The city also repealed a rule that only people with a negative Covid test could buy over-the-counter flu drugs, which was aimed at preventing people with Covid from hiding their illness.

In nearby Shenzhen, some will be allowed to self-quarantine at home. About 1,000 km to the west, in Chongqing, businesses ranging from barbershops to gyms have been allowed to reopen.

But many high-risk communities are under lockdown by various cities, and many still have to take daily tests.

“The high spirits are not universal,” said the Guangzhou-based diplomat. “While many people are enjoying their newfound freedom, it’s worth noting that hundreds of high-risk zones are still on lockdown across the city.”

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Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Albie Zhang, Ryan Wu and the Beijing Newsroom; By Marius Zaharia and John Geddy; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsal

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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