BEIJING, Dec. 2 (Reuters) – Some communities in Chinese cities where COVID-19 is still spreading are easing testing requirements and quarantine rules in anticipation of an expected shift in virus policies across the country following widespread social unrest.
However, the uneven easing of COVID restrictions is fueling fears among some residents who suddenly feel more exposed to a disease that until this week authorities had consistently described as deadly.
Beijing pharmacies say purchases of N95 masks, which offer a much higher level of protection than the single-use surgical type, have increased this week. Some people who wore N95s on Friday said they got them from their employers.
Such cautious behavior bodes badly for consumer-facing businesses and factories in major COVID-hit cities, whose workers hope to remain virus-free, at least until they return to their rural families for the Lunar New Year.
The elderly, many of whom have not yet been vaccinated, feel the most vulnerable.
Shi Wei, a resident of Beijing suffering from lymphatic cancer, spends most of his time in isolation, but is still worried about getting COVID and giving it to his 80-year-old mother, as he goes to hospital every three weeks goes to the hospital for treatment.
“I can only pray that God protects me,” he said.
China’s COVID policies have hammered its economy, choking everything from domestic consumption to factory output, to global supply chains, and causing severe mental stress for hundreds of millions of people.
Anger over the world’s toughest curbs has sparked dozens of protests in more than 20 cities in recent days in a show of civil disobedience unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
Less than 24 hours after people clashed with riot police in white safety gear in Guangzhou, a sprawling manufacturing center just north of Hong Kong, the city lifted lockdowns in at least seven of its districts. According to state media, some communities should now be tested less frequently and close contacts of infected people may be quarantined at home.
But the uneven relaxation of rules across the city is causing other kinds of problems for residents.
“I am leaving on vacation tomorrow and had to find a place to get a COVID test as I still need a 48 hour code to get to the airport but most of the testing stations have been removed,” said a diplomat at a foreign consulate. in Canton.
Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said this week that the virus’s ability to cause disease was decreasing — a message consistent with what health authorities around the world have been saying for more than a year.
While government authorities in cities that have lifted lockdowns did not mention the protests in their announcements, national health officials have said China will address the public’s “pressing concerns”.
China is poised to announce nationwide relaxation of quarantine and testing requirements, sources told Reuters, hoping implementation would become more uniform.
The measures include a reduction in the use of mass testing and regular nucleic acid testing, as well as measures to isolate positive cases and close contacts at home under certain circumstances, the sources familiar with the matter said.
On the ground, however, some communities in Beijing and elsewhere have already quarantined close contacts of people who carry the virus at home, while some shopping malls in the capital have reopened from Thursday.
A residential community in eastern Beijing sent out a message on Friday to say those who “have no social activities,” such as the homebound elderly and infants, will no longer need regular testing “to reduce the risk of crowding.”
Several test booths in the area have stopped working and the number of people tested has dropped by 20-30%, a test worker said. Yet the nearby park remained closed, while restaurants and cafes only sold take-out food.
Earlier this year, entire communities went into lockdown, sometimes for weeks, even after just one positive case, with people trapped inside losing income, having poor access to basic necessities and struggling mentally with the isolation.
Some areas in Guangzhou are resuming dining services and residents are no longer asked to present negative PCR tests to enter, state media reported.
In nearby Shenzhen, some people are allowed to self-quarantine at home. About a thousand miles west, in Chongqing, a wide range of businesses, from barbershops to gyms, were allowed to resume this week.
In Chengdu, Sichuan province, passengers no longer needed negative test results to take the bus or subway. In Jincheng, which is halfway between Beijing and Shanghai, people can now enter karaoke venues but still cannot dine in restaurants.
At the same time, many communities in areas identified as high-risk by several cities remain on lockdown and many people still have to undergo daily testing.
“The cheerful mood is not universal,” said the Guangzhou-based diplomat. “While many people are enjoying their newfound freedom, it is worth noting that hundreds of high-risk zones are still closed in the city.”
Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Written by Marius Zaharia; Edited by Michael Perry
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