- Loosening comes after week of historic protests
- Restrictions hit world’s second-largest economy hard
- Nationwide easing expected soon – sources
BEIJING, Dec 2 (Reuters) – (This story has been corrected to change the start date of easing measures from Saturday to Friday in paragraph 16)
Some Chinese cities further eased COVID-19 testing requirements and quarantine rules on Friday, providing both relief and concern as hundreds of millions of people await an expected shift in national virus policy following widespread social unrest.
Frustrated by three years of economically destructive restrictions, workers welcomed the looser measures but also alarmed others who suddenly felt more vulnerable to a disease that until this week authorities had been describing as deadly.
Older adults, many of whom remain unvaccinated, feel most vulnerable.
Shi Wei, a Beijing resident with lymphoma who spends most of his time in isolation but is discharged every three weeks for treatment, still worries about catching COVID and infecting his 80-year-old mother.
“I can only pray that God protects me,” he said.
China’s COVID policies have stifled everything from domestic consumption to factory output and global supply chains, and have caused severe mental distress to hundreds of millions of people.
Anger over some of the world’s toughest restrictions has sparked dozens of protests in more than two dozen cities in recent days, in an unprecedented display of civil disobedience in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
In Guangzhou, the sprawling manufacturing hub north of Hong Kong, at least seven areas of the city were lifted from lockdown less than 24 hours after clashes with riot police in white hazmat suits.
“Finally, we can slowly return to normal life,” said Lili, 41, who works at a restaurant chain in Guangzhou that was allowed to reopen on Thursday.
She said the disruption of the lockdown over the past few years had resulted in a 30 per cent drop in revenue.
“The public can’t stand it anymore, and everyone hopes that we can reopen… The Guangzhou government may have heard our appeal and thinks it’s time,” Lily said.
Sun Chunlan, the deputy prime minister in charge of COVID, said this week that the virus’s ability to cause disease was weakening — a message that was in line with what health authorities around the world have been saying for more than a year.
While authorities in the cities that lifted the lockdown 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 now require less frequent testing and are allowing people who have been in close contact with infected people to isolate at home, measures expected to be rolled out across the country in the coming days, state media reported.
China will announce nationwide reductions in the frequency of mass testing and regular nucleic acid testing, and allow positive cases and close contacts to be isolated at home under certain conditions, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
China’s largest cities Chengdu and Tianjin announced they would no longer require subway passengers to show negative COVID tests starting Friday, another easing of restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus in crowded public spaces.
Some communities in Beijing and elsewhere have allowed close contacts of people with the virus to quarantine at home, while some shopping malls in the capital began reopening on Thursday.
On Friday, a residential complex in eastern Beijing issued a notice saying those who “have no social activities,” such as the elderly and infants at home, no longer need to be regularly tested.
Several testing sites in the area have ceased operations, and the number of people tested has dropped by as much as 30%, a staff member said. Still, nearby parks remain closed, while restaurants and cafes are only selling takeaway.
Earlier this year, even with just one positive case, entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, with people stuck indoors, losing income, struggling to access basic necessities, and struggling to cope with quarantine.
Dine-in services resumed in parts of Guangzhou, where residents were no longer required to show negative PCR test results, state media reported.
In nearby Shenzhen, some people will be allowed to quarantine at home. In Chongqing, about 1,000 kilometers to the west, businesses ranging from barbershops to gyms were allowed to reopen this week.
In Jincheng, halfway between Beijing and Shanghai, people can go back to karaoke spots, but still can’t eat in restaurants.
Meanwhile, many communities in high-risk areas of several cities remain under lockdown, and many people still require daily testing.
“This optimism is not widespread,” said a Guangzhou-based diplomat. “While many people are enjoying their newfound freedom, it’s worth noting that hundreds of high-risk areas remain locked down across the city.”
Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Albee Zhang, Ryan Woo and Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Marius Zaharia and John Geddie; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel
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