BEIJING, Dec 4 (Reuters) – More Chinese cities, including Urumqi in the far west, announced an easing of coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as China tries to make its zero COVID policy more targeted and less onerous after protests unprecedented against restrictions last weekend.
Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region and where protests first broke out, will reopen shopping malls, markets, restaurants and other venues from Monday, authorities said, ending strict lockdowns after months.
There were no signs of significant unrest over the weekend, although police were out in force in Beijing’s Liangmaqiao district and in Shanghai around Wulumuqi Road, which is named after Urumqi. Both sites saw protests a week ago.
A deadly fire last month in Urumqi sparked dozens of protests against COVID curbs in more than 20 cities after some social media users said victims were unable to escape the blaze because their building was firm. The authorities denied this.
The protests were an unprecedented display of civil disobedience in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
In the days that followed, many cities 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’ ability to cause disease was weakening – a change in messaging that matches what many health authorities around the world have been saying for over a year.
China is set to announce further nationwide easing of testing requirements as well as allowing positive cases and close contacts to self-isolate at home under certain conditions, people familiar with the matter told Reuters this week. last.
At the moment, measures to ease restrictions vary across the country.
Residents of Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone factory that was rocked by violent unrest last month, will no longer have to show COVID test results to ride public transportation, taxis and visit “public areas”, authorities said on Sunday. .
Karaoke bars, beauty salons, internet cafes and other indoor venues can reopen but must verify a 48-hour negative COVID test result.
In Shanghai, from Monday, a negative COVID test will no longer be required to take public transport and visit parks, authorities announced on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Nanning, capital of the southern region of Guangxi, and Wuhan, the central city where the pandemic began in 2019, on Sunday canceled the requirement for a negative COVID test to ride the subway.
Guangzhou’s Haizhu District, which saw violent clashes last month, said on Sunday it was now advising people with no symptoms of COVID not to get tested for the virus unless they belong to certain special groups such as front-line workers or those with a red or yellow code.
In Beijing on Saturday, authorities said the purchase of medicine for fever, cough and sore throat no longer requires registration. The restriction had been imposed because authorities believed people were using the drug to hide COVID infections.
Authorities in various parts of the capital have announced in recent days that people who test positive for the virus can self-quarantine at home.
Some inconsistencies as restrictions are eased have angered people, including some places requiring a negative COVID test even if mass testing centers closed.
In Beijing and Wuhan, it caused long queues at the few remaining test booths.
“Are they stupid or just mean? asked one social media user. “We shouldn’t shut down COVID testing stations until we get rid of the COVID testing pass.”
The new number of daily cases fell to 31,824 nationwide, authorities said on Sunday, which may be partly due to fewer people being tested. Authorities also reported two new COVID deaths.
‘PREPARING FOR THE ZERO-COVID EXIT’
Xi’s zero COVID policy has had a devastating impact on the world’s second-largest economy and disrupted global supply chains.
China argues that the policy, which has virtually closed its borders for travel, is necessary to save lives and prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
Despite the easing of restrictions, many experts have said China is unlikely to begin a meaningful reopening before March at the earliest, given the need to step up vaccinations, especially among its large elderly population.
“While there have been quite a few local shifts in COVID policies lately, we do not interpret these as China abandoning the zero-COVID policy just yet,” Goldman Sachs said in a note Sunday.
“Rather, we view them as clear evidence that the Chinese government is preparing for an exit and trying to minimize the economic and social cost of controlling COVID in the meantime. Preparations may last a few months and there will likely be challenges throughout. throughout the process. way.”
Estimates of the number of deaths China could see if it pivots to full reopening have ranged from 1.3 million to more than 2 million, although some researchers have said the death toll could be significantly reduced if the focus was put on vaccination.
Authorities recently announced they would be accelerating COVID vaccinations for the elderly, but many remain reluctant to get vaccinated.
“Some people have doubts about the safety and efficacy of the country’s new coronavirus vaccine,” an article in the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said on Sunday.
“Experts say that perception is wrong,” he said, adding that locally made vaccines were safe.
Foreign COVID vaccines are not approved in China and Xi does not want to change that, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Saturday.
Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Tony Munroe, Lincoln Feast, Kirsten Donovan
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