January 28, 2023

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Relief and anxiety as major Chinese cities ease COVID restrictions

Relief and anxiety as major Chinese cities ease COVID restrictions
  • The easing comes after a week of historic protests
  • The restrictions have hit the world’s second largest economy
  • Nationwide mitigation measures expected soon – sources

BEIJING (Reuters) – A further relaxation of COVID-19 testing requirements and quarantine rules in some Chinese cities was met with a mixture of relief and anxiety on Friday, as hundreds of millions awaited an expected shift in national virus policies after widespread social transmission. unrest.

The relaxed measures were welcomed by workers frustrated by three years of economically devastating restrictions, but they shocked others who suddenly felt more vulnerable to a disease authorities consistently described as deadly until this week.

Older adults, many of whom are not immune, feel more vulnerable.

Xi Wei, a Beijing resident with lymphatic system cancer, spends most of his time in isolation, but still worries about catching the coronavirus and giving it to his 80-year-old mother while he is discharged to hospital every three weeks.

“I can only pray to God to protect me,” he said.

China’s coronavirus policies have stifled everything from domestic consumption to factory production and global supply chains, and have caused severe psychological stress on hundreds of millions of people.

Anger at the world’s toughest restrictions 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.

Asked about the protests in an interview with French television on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States supports “the protesters’ freedom to express themselves and show their frustration.”

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Less than 24 hours after people clashed with riot police dressed in highly dangerous whites in Guangzhou on Tuesday, a sprawling manufacturing hub north of Hong Kong, the city lifted lockdowns in at least seven of its districts.

“Finally, we can slowly return to our normal lives,” said Lily, 41, who works at a Guangzhou restaurant chain that was allowed to reopen on Thursday.

It said outages in insurance over the past few years had led to a 30% drop in profits.

“The public couldn’t take it any longer, and everyone wished we could reopen the door… Maybe the Guangzhou government heard what we were asking and thought it was time,” said Leila.

Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, who oversees the coronavirus effort, said this week that the virus’s ability to cause disease is weakening — a message in line with what health authorities around the world have said for more than a year.

While government authorities in cities that lifted lockdowns did not mention the protests in their announcements, national health officials said China would address “urgent concerns” expressed by the public.

Back to the barber

Some communities are now requiring less frequent testing and allowing close contacts of those infected to be quarantined at home, according to state media, and the measures are expected to be rolled out nationwide in the coming days.

Informed sources told Reuters that China is set to announce a nationwide cut in how frequent mass testing and regular nucleic acid tests are conducted, as well as allowing positive cases and close contacts to isolate at home under certain conditions.

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Chengdu and Tianjin, among China’s largest cities, announced that they would no longer require metro users to show negative COVID tests from Friday, another easing of restrictions imposed to stop transmission of the virus in crowded public places.

Some communities in Beijing and elsewhere have already allowed close contacts of people carrying the virus to be quarantined at home, while some shopping malls in the capital reopened from Thursday.

A residential community in eastern Beijing on Friday sent out a notice saying those who “do not have social activities”, such as the elderly and infants, no longer need to be screened regularly.

One employee said many testing booths in the area have stopped working and the number of people being tested has dropped by as much as 30%. However, the nearby park remained closed, while restaurants and cafes only sell takeaway food.

Earlier in the year, entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after just one positive case, as people stuck in their homes lost income, struggled to access basic necessities, and struggled to cope with isolation.

Some districts in Guangzhou have resumed catering services, and residents are no longer required to present negative PCR tests for entry, state media reported.

The city also rescinded a rule that only people with a negative COVID test could buy fever medicine without a prescription, a policy intended to prevent people with COVID from hiding their illness.

In neighboring Shenzhen, some people will be allowed to quarantine at home. About 1,000km to the west, in Chongqing, a range of businesses from barbershops to gyms have been allowed to reopen.

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But several communities designated as high risk by various cities remain under lockdown and many people are still required to take daily tests.

“Good mood is not universal,” said a Guangzhou-based diplomat. “Although many people are enjoying the new freedom, it is worth noting that there are still hundreds of closed high-risk areas across the city.”

Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Albie Zhang, Ryan Wu and the Beijing newsroom. Written by Marius Zaharia and John Gede; Editing by Michael Berry, Robert Purcell

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