April 12, 2024

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China begins easing ‘zero Covid’ curbs

China begins easing ‘zero Covid’ curbs

BEIJING: China on Wednesday announced the most sweeping changes to its resolute anti-Covid regime since the pandemic began three years ago, loosening rules that curbed the spread of the virus but sparked protests and hobbled the world’s secondlargest economy. The relaxation of rules, which includes allowing infected people with mild symptoms to quarantine at home and dropping testing for people travelling domestically, is the clearest sign yet Beijing is pivoting away from its zero-Covid policy to let people live with the disease. But health officials are still warning that they will closely watch trends in deaths and adequacy of medical resources in case a return to tougher measures is needed.
Many of the changes announced by the National Health Commission (NHC) reflected steps already taken invarious cities and regions in recent days, following protests against Covid controls that were the biggest demonstration of public discontent since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
Citizens cheered the prospect of a shift that could see China slowly emerging back into the world three years after the virus was first identified in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. Wednesday’s announcement soared to the most viewed topic on China’s Weibo platform, with many hoping for normality after policies that have brought mental suffering to tens of millions. “It’s time for our lives to return to normal, and for China to return to the world,” wrote one Weibo user.
Dozens of people also flocked to the Weibo account ofLi Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan who died in 2020 after sounding an early alarm about Covid-19. “Doctor, we’ve made it through, we’re going to be free,” wrote one user. “Daylight is here,” wrote another.
Shanghai was among the first to announce that it would put the new home quarantine guidelines in place and also remove rules on travellers entering the city.
Some investors also welcomed the shift that could reinvigorate China’s sagging economy and currency and bolster global growth. “This change of policy is a big step forward,” said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management. “I expect China will fully reopen its border no later than mid 2023. ” Foreign businesses in China also hope the changes will mark a shift to a broader opening. But NHC spokesperson Mi Feng told a news conference that any changes to measures regarding inbound travel would be “gradual”.
The policy changes were announced after Xi, who regards China’s relentless fight against Covid as one of his main achievements, chaired a meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo on Tuesday.
Major cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai, were gripped by protests last month, which started to subside amid a heavy police presence and various restrictions being lifted in different parts of the country. Officials have not linked any of the changes, made on Wednesday or earlier, to the protests. But they have markedly softened their tone on the health risks of the virus — bringing China closer to what other countries have been saying for more than a year as they dropped restrictions and shifted towards living with the virus.