BEIJING, Dec. 4 (Reuters) – More Chinese cities, including Urumqi in the far west, announced an easing of coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as China seeks to make its zero-COVID policy more focused and less burdensome after unprecedented protests against restrictions last weekend .
Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region and where the protests first broke out, will reopen shopping malls, markets, restaurants and other venues from Monday, authorities said, ending strict lockdowns after months.
There was no sign of significant unrest over the weekend, although police were present in Beijing’s Liangmaqiao area and in Shanghai around Wulumuqi Road, named after Urumqi. Both sites saw protests a week ago.
A deadly fire in Urumqi last month sparked dozens of COVID sidewalk protests in more than 20 cities after some social media users said victims could not escape the blaze because their apartment building was sealed. Authorities denied that.
The protests were an unprecedented display of civil disobedience in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
In the days since, numerous cities have announced the easing of lockdowns, testing requirements and quarantine rules.
Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the virus’s ability to cause disease was declining — a shift in news coverage consistent with what many health authorities around the world have been saying for more than a year. say year.
China will further announce a nationwide relaxation of testing requirements and allow positive cases and close contacts to be isolated at home under certain conditions, people familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.
For now, steps to ease restrictions are diverging across the country.
People in Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone factory that was rocked by violent unrest last month, are no longer required to show COVID test results to take public transportation, taxis and visit “public areas,” said authorities on Sunday. .
Karaoke bars, beauty salons, internet cafes and other indoor venues can reopen but must check for a negative 48-hour COVID test result.
In Shanghai, a negative COVID test is no longer required to travel on public transport and visit parks from Monday, authorities announced on Sunday.
Elsewhere, both Nanning, the capital of Guangxi’s southern region, and Wuhan, the central city where the pandemic began in 2019, canceled a requirement for a negative COVID test to take the subway on Sunday.
Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, where violent clashes took place last month, said on Sunday that it would now advise people without COVID symptoms not to get tested for the virus unless they belong to certain special groups, such as frontline workers or people with red or red hair. yellow code.
On Saturday, authorities in Beijing said the purchase of medicines for fever, cough and sore throat no longer had to be registered. The restriction was imposed because authorities believed people were using the medication to hide COVID infections.
Authorities in several districts in the capital have announced in recent days that people who test positive for the virus can self-quarantine at home.
Some inconsistencies in easing restrictions have angered people, including a requirement for a negative COVID test in some places even as mass testing centers closed.
In Beijing and Wuhan, this resulted in long queues at the few remaining test booths.
“Are they stupid or just mean?” one social media user asked. “We are not allowed to close COVID test stations until we lose the COVID test pass.”
The number of new daily cases fell to 31,824 nationwide, authorities said Sunday, which may be due in part to fewer people being tested. Authorities also reported two new COVID deaths.
‘PREPARING TO LEAVE ZERO-COVID’
Xi’s zero-COVID policy has had a devastating impact on the world’s second-largest economy and the collapse of global supply chains.
China argues that the policy, which has virtually closed its borders to travel, is necessary to save lives and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.
Despite the easing of restrictions, many experts said China was unlikely to begin a major reopening until March at the earliest, given the need to ramp up vaccinations, especially among its huge elderly population.
“While there have been quite a few local changes to COVID policies recently, we do not interpret them as China abandoning the zero COVID policy for now,” Goldman Sachs said in a note on Sunday.
“Rather, we see them as clear evidence that the Chinese government is preparing for a departure and, in the meantime, is trying to minimize the economic and social costs of COVID control. Preparations can take several months and challenges are likely to arise over time. way.”
Estimates for the number of deaths China could see as it pivots to a full reopening ranged from 1.3 million to more than 2 million, though some researchers said the death toll could be greatly reduced if there was a focus on vaccination.
Authorities recently announced they would speed up COVID vaccinations for the elderly, but many remain reluctant to get the jab.
“Some people have doubts about the safety and effectiveness of the country’s new coronavirus vaccine,” said an article in the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily on Sunday.
“Experts say this perception is wrong,” it said, adding that domestically-made vaccines were safe.
Foreign COVID vaccines have not been approved in China and Xi is unwilling to change that, US director of national intelligence Avril Haines said Saturday.
Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Additional reporting by the Beijing Newsroom; Edited by Tony Munroe, Lincoln Feast, Kirsten Donovan
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