BEIJING, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Some communities in Chinese cities where COVID-19 is still spreading are easing testing requirements and quarantine rules ahead of an expected change in nationwide virus policies after unrest generalized social.
The uneven easing of COVID restrictions, however, is fueling fear among some residents who suddenly feel more at risk of a disease authorities had consistently described as deadly until this week.
Pharmacies in Beijing say purchases of N95 masks, which offer a much higher degree of protection than the single-use surgical type, have increased this week. On Friday, some people wearing N95s said they got them from their employers.
Such cautious behavior bodes ill for consumer-facing businesses and factories in major COVID-hit cities whose workers hope to stay virus-free at least until they return to their homes. families in the countryside for the Lunar New Year.
The elderly, many of whom are still unvaccinated, feel the most vulnerable.
Shi Wei, a Beijing resident suffering from lymphatic cancer, spends most of his time self-isolating but still worries about contracting COVID and giving it to his 80-year-old mother as he goes out for hospital treatment every three weeks.
“I can only pray for God to protect me,” he said.
China’s COVID policies have hammered its economy, stifling everything from domestic consumption to factory production to global supply chains, and causing severe mental stress for hundreds of millions of people.
Anger at the world’s toughest borders has fueled dozens of protests in more than 20 cities in recent days in a show of civil disobedience not seen in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
Less than 24 hours after people clashed with white riot police in hazmat gear in Guangzhou, a sprawling manufacturing hub just north of Hong Kong, the city lifted lockdowns in at least seven of its districts. Some communities are now requiring less frequent testing and allowing close contacts of those infected to self-quarantine at home, according to state media.
But the uneven relaxation of rules around the city is causing other kinds of problems for its residents.
“I’m going on holiday tomorrow and had to look for a place to take a COVID test as I still need a 48 hour code to get to the airport but most of the test stations have been removed” , said a diplomat at a foreign consulate. in Guangzhou.
Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said this week that the virus’ ability to cause disease was weakening – a message that matches what health authorities around the world have been saying for more than a decade. ‘a year.
While government authorities in cities that lifted the lockdowns did not mention the protests in their announcements, national health officials said China would address “urgent concerns” expressed by the public.
China is set to announce a nationwide relaxation of quarantine and testing requirements, sources told Reuters, in what many hope will make implementation more uniform.
Measures include a reduction in the use of mass testing and regular nucleic acid testing as well as measures to allow positive cases and close contacts to self-isolate at home under certain conditions, the sources close to the government said. case.
On the ground, however, some communities in Beijing and elsewhere have already allowed close contacts of people with the virus to quarantine at home, while some malls in the capital reopened from Thursday.
On Friday, a residential community in east Beijing sent out a notice saying those with “no social activity”, such as the elderly and housebound infants, no longer need to be tested regularly. “to reduce the risk of overcrowding”.
Several testing booths in the area have stopped working and the number of people tested has dropped by 20-30%, a testing staff member said. Yet the nearby park remained closed, while restaurants and cafes only sold takeout.
Earlier this year, entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after even a single positive case, with people stuck inside losing income, having limited access to basic necessities and struggling to do facing mental isolation.
Some areas of Guangzhou have resumed on-site catering services and residents are no longer asked to present negative PCR tests to enter, state media reported.
In nearby Shenzhen, some people will be allowed to quarantine at home. About a thousand kilometers to the west in Chongqing, a wide range of businesses from hair salons to gyms were allowed to resume this week.
In Chengdu, Sichuan province, passengers no longer needed negative test results to ride the bus or subway. In Jincheng, halfway between Beijing and Shanghai, people can now enter karaoke rooms, but still cannot dine in restaurants.
At the same time, many communities in areas designated as high risk by various cities remain in lockdown, and many people are still required to undergo daily testing.
“The positive mood is not universal,” said the Guangzhou-based diplomat. “While many people are enjoying newfound freedom, it should be noted that there are still hundreds of high-risk areas that are locked down across the city.”
Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry
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