- National Health Authority announces 10 new measures
- China holds press conference on COVID steps at 0700 GMT
- Residents rush to buy drugs, fearing the spread of the virus
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec. 7 (Reuters) – China said on Wednesday it would allow COVID patients with mild symptoms to self-isolate at home as part of a series of new measures that marked a major shift in a strict anti-virus policy that has been guiding its economy and to historic protests.
The relaxation of the rules, which also included removing the requirement for people to show negative tests when traveling between regions, came as top officials downplayed warnings about the dangers of COVID-19.
That has raised prospects that Beijing will slowly try to catch up with the rest of the world and reopen its economy three years after a pandemic that broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Investors were quick to welcome the prospect of a delay for the world’s second-largest economy and the possibility of a shift to a lifting of border controls next year.
“This policy change is a big step forward,” said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management.
“I expect China to fully reopen the border by mid-2023 at the latest.”
China will hold a press conference at 07:00 GMT on “optimizing” its COVID control measures, state media reported, after President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo on Tuesday.
Cities across China were gripped by protests over harsh COVID policies late last month, in what was the biggest expression of public discontent since Xi came to power in 2012.
As those protests fizzled out within days amid a heavy police presence, cities and regions across the country began announcing a hodgepodge of easing measures that fueled expectations ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.
Many of the steps taken by individual cities or regions were reflected in the list of policy changes released by the National Health Authority on Wednesday.
But the looser curbs have sparked a rush for preventative drugs as some residents, particularly the unvaccinated elderly, feel more vulnerable to the virus.
Authorities across the country have warned of tight supplies and price gouging by retailers in recent days.
“Buy rationally, buy on demand, and don’t blindly stock up,” the Beijing Municipal Food and Drug Administration told the state-owned Beijing Evening News.
In Beijing’s posh Chaoyang district, home to most of the foreign embassies, entertainment venues and corporate headquarters, stores were rapidly running out of some of those drugs, according to one resident.
“Last night, the drugs were already in stock, and now many are out of stock,” said Zhang, a 33-year-old educator, who only mentioned his last name.
“Epidemic prevention has been lifted… COVID-19 testing sites are largely dismantled… So, as the number of cases in Chaoyang district is quite high at the moment, it is better to stock up on some medicines,” he said.
Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Sophie Yu, Ryan Woo, Bernard Orr and the Beijing newsroom; Written by John Geddie; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore
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